The Jammsright Limit


Artist’s conception of a Bussard Ramjet – Found at Initiative for Interstellar Studies (i4is)

It had taken months for Arturo Patel to arrive at and get through the Heliosphere, the official barrier between the solar system and interstellar space, in the stolen prototype Jammsright-powered craft. He’d invented the Jammsright drive so he thought he should be the first to use it to leave the solar system and voyage to another star system.

The government hadn’t seen it that way since not only wasn’t he a qualified astronaut, he was fifty-nine years old. The bleeding edge space explorers have (with rare exception) always been young men and women who were thought best fit to endure the rigors of space flight.

Once he had managed to bypass the security interlocks between the space station and the ship’s docking arm, it was child’s play to hack the sensor systems causing the monitors to show everything was in standby mode when in actuality, the ship was being fueled and prepared for departure.

The assigned crew was still undergoing their final month’s training in Houston, but the foodstuffs, life support systems, and all other requirements for a manned party of six (actually three men and three women) had already been placed on board and calibrated.

At exactly GMT plus 5.5 and thirty-two seconds, the docking clamps holding the prototype in place were disengaged and Dr. Patel fired the maneuvering rockets to push the Indra (he’d named the ship after the Hindu deity who was the king of the highest heavens) away from the space station. Fifteen seconds later, the explosive charge he had planted in the station’s main computer core detonated causing all control systems to go offline. Emergency systems would maintain life support and ensure that the station would continue in a stable orbit, but they’d be blind, deaf, dumb, and helpless, unable to say or do anything to stop his departure. Unless someone ran to a window, they wouldn’t even know the Indra was gone.

Dr. Patel was considered the Einstein and Hawking of his generation, a brilliant and eccentric genius who had taken the basic concepts of Robert Bussard’s Ramjet along with the later Ram Augmented Interstellar Rocket (RAIR) adaptation to develop a more effective propulsion system. He would reach .1 of the speed of light (C) by the time he was past Neptune’s orbit and .6 at the turnaround point halfway between the solar system and Alpha Centuri B which was his target.

The shortsighted fools at NASA and SpaceX which had combined their resources for this effort, planned the Indra’s maiden voyage to only be a round trip between Earth orbit and the inner edge of the Heliosphere which would take less than three years. True, that was a “stellar” achievement in its own right, but still not worthy of the great Arturo Patel. If those shy and timid little rabbits weren’t able to make the big leap on the first try, then to hell with them.

Patel took a deep breath as he activated his forward screen to take in the view. It was something of a disappointment after all of those science fiction television shows and movies. Just a black background with a few points of light slightly blue shifted due to his current velocity.

The magnetic scoop, hundreds of thousands of kilometers wide was invisibly projected in front of his vessel sweeping up and accelerating hydrogen gas to be used as an accelerant for his experimental drive engines. Everything was functioning beautifully.

Of course, even at this velocity, time dilation would barely be noticed and he would die long before reaching his destination, so he’d installed a hibernation pod taken from the testing lab in Bethesda so he could “sleep” through the long journey. At the halfway point, the computer would turn the thrusters 180 degrees to face the destination and begin the years long deceleration eventually assisted by the magnetic sail technology. He would be awakened by the computer about a month before entering the new star system, and become the first human being to visit an exoplanet.

Patel would clear the Oort cloud in a few weeks. Then another month of analyzing readings and monitoring the ship’s performance before entering his long slumber.

“Wait. This can’t be happening. The engines are functioning perfectly. The scoop’s collection of hydrogen gas is still at optimal. Why the hell is the ship slowing down?”

Everything he was seeing was a violation of the very physical laws by which the Indra depended, and yet, moment by moment, he was decelerating. In just a few months, his velocity would be zero. He would be motionless in space as if he were aboard an ancient sailing ship caught in what was referred to as the doldrums with no wind to push her forward. His only option then would be to enter hibernation and program the computer to awaken him upon some change in the ship’s status. How long would the fusion reactor provide power without a continually renewed supply of hydrogen?

“This wasn’t supposed to happen, Jonathan. You said the lifeforms in the simulation would never be able to develop this kind of transportation system.”

“I know, I know, Peter. They shouldn’t have, but just look at this. In a matter of minutes, they evolved from mere chemical rockets launching primitive exploration robots to the other planets to this…this ramscoop technology. I thought we programmed the simulation so that the theory behind it would be discarded as impractical. What did you do, Peter?”

“I verified the subroutines just five minutes ago. The device that just cleared the Oort cloud should be impossible, or at least highly improbable.”

Jonathan Meridith and Peter Jellicoe were the two lead scientists on the Sol Simulation Project. Dozens of similar holosimulations were being conducted by teams all over the Three Provinces testing how life would develop given various environmental conditions. Only the Sol Project yielded actual animal life with one species amazingly becoming not only sentient, but highly technical.

“Years of work ruined because of the sentience anomaly, Peter. We’ll have to wipe the simulation clean and start from scratch. Even with over a billion years of simulation time passing in a single year of ours…think of the resources we’ve wasted.” Jonathan shook his head as he looked at the Interface, focused on one tiny spacecraft magnified so that it would be large enough for them to see in this frozen image.

“Maybe not, Jonathan” Peter snapped his fingers as the recipient of inspiration. “None of the others of its species in the simulation are able to observe him. If we delete just this ship from the program, they’ll assume it was lost. We can adjust the parameters so that they’ll assume the underlying theory behind their…what did they call it?”

“Jammsright drive.”

“Yes, Jammsright drive is flawed. They’ll never make another attempt and believe interstellar travel is impossible, just as we want them to.”

“Well, we can give it a try. Make the necessary changes and let me know when you’re ready to unpause the simulation.”

“I know I’m right, Jonathan. We could save everything.” Peter quickly sat back down at his terminal and began rapidly keyboarding.

Jonathan peered down at the interface again, staring at the soon to be deleted interstellar craft and its single simulated occupant. “I really thought your species would have exterminated itself by now. That would have solved everything.”

Jonathan Meridith could see the Indra and even Arturo Patel, but he couldn’t imagine the inspiration, the spirit, and drive within the unique simulated lifeform that pushed it past the barriers of both programming and imagination to achieve the impossible. Perhaps that’s what he and his kind lacked in their real world, if anything is real at all.

I wrote this for the Making Sense of Nonsense – January 18th – Jammshup story challenge hosted at Mindlovemisery’s Menagerie. The idea is to use a nonsense word, in this case “jammsright,” as the inspiration to create a poem, short story, or other imaginative work.

The word “jammsright” immediately reminded me of the Bussard Ramjet which is a spacecraft propulsion method first proposed by physicist Robert W. Bussard in 1960. It was later amended and I used some of the real science as the basis for my fictionalized version of it. Click the link to learn more.

I had to consult Quora to determine how fast a Ramjet craft might be able to go and settled on between .1 and .6 of the speed of light, which in physics is expressed as “C”.

I then used a Time Dilation Calculator to determine that even at .6 of light, time dilation wouldn’t be nearly severe enough to slow down Patel’s perception of time or aging process, nor get the spacecraft a distance of about 4.2 light years quickly enough. He’d die of old age long before he got anywhere, so I invented the Hibernation Pod to get around this limitation.

I looked up Voyager 1 and the Heliosphere to get some sense of where one might find the official edge of interstellar space, even though the Oort Cloud extends beyond it.

For a number of years, scientists have debated the idea that our universe is a simulation which I used to create the story’s climax. I leveraged a 1964 episode of “The Outer Limits” television show called Wolf 359 in which a rogue scientist creates a simulated world in the Wolf 359 star system. He expected only plant life at best, but animal life developed and evolved at a highly accelerated rate, eventually developing the beginnings of space travel. Rather than have the simulated lifeforms enter the real world, he destroyed the simulation.

I named my two scientists on the Sol Project after characters in that TV show.


7 thoughts on “The Jammsright Limit

  1. This was most engaging James, I did enjoy the fact Patel was part of program gone wrong….I was intrigued that the word for this week ‘jammeshup’ must have been changed by your auto-correct?? as I noticed a few people had done the same…..not that it matters as there are some great responses to it.


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