Professor Shane Ross of Virginia Tech has been mapping out baffling tubular roadways for commuters. Not between cities or across plains, but through space.

Scientists have known for a while that some regions of the solar system are easier to pass through than others.

The reason for this is the gravitational fields of the planets, specifically where they interact. They could be used to cut the cost, and possible the time, involved to send missions to Mars, for example.

''These are freefall pathways in space around and between gravitational bodies. Instead of falling down, like you do on Earth, you fall along these tubes." Ross explained.  

Gravity tubes


This is a little different from slingshot techniques where the motion and gravity of single bodies is used to drag and fling spacecraft faster, or occasionally slower, and in an altered direction.

Slingshot effects have been used several times and are relatively simple.

The 2004 Genesis spacecraft made use of the tubular idea.

That mission aimed to capture solar wind particles. It failed, but only due to a malfunctioning parachute near the end - the pathways allowed the fuel use to be cut to a tenth of what it would have been.

''I like to think of them as being similar to ocean currents, but they are gravitational currents." Ross commented.

Ocean currents were a boon to C15th and C16th European navigators. Perhaps someday these currents will help journeys to and from Mars.

Space collectors shouldn't hold their breath though, these pathways only offer assistance to conventional rocket power. If you used rocket power only for minor adjustments and relied on the tubes alone, a journey from Earth to Mars would take thousands of years.

The Apollo missions will likely remain the main source of other-worldly memorabilia for some time yet.


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