Ho ho ho! A fellow engineer. Yes, I suppose I did say that wrong. Aerodynamically, that is almost the ideal shape (with a theoretical body in the shape of a long, conical/rounded/Ogive shape mirrored over its base being the best, but it's awfully difficult to build aircraft like that) but it's not how we build space craft. In practice, this is because you're working with the ultimate economy of weight, what with that whole delta-V issue. Rockets are snazzy for getting you out of the atmosphere, where drag is an issue, but once you head out into space itself you've gotta conserve, conserve. So it's all just small, round bits held together by the lightest material possible. And a bazillion pounds of shiny metal is not going to get you far, especially since they usually lack any kind of obvious space for reserve fuel. You might argue that it has something like a hydrogen scoop (or even a Bussard ram-jet, but aren't we getting fancy now?) and runs on fusion, but that's iffy. These sorts of things usually run on what might as well be magic, in-universe, and I was lamenting that we would probably never be able to optimize our spacecraft such that we could adopt shapes like what we see here.
That is only if you are using "realistic" space propulsion, which takes forever to push you anywhere beyond, say, Luna. You also have to make your ship out of rubber bands and tin foil. However, chemical rockets and ion thrusters are hardly the end all and be all of propulsion. Atomic rockets, particularly the classic gas-core atomic rocket are far more capable. The problem with modern space propulsion is that not enough is coming out of the rocket fast enough. With fission rockets, that problem can be solved- at least enough to have a classic rocket cruiser. By the way, ram-scoops are only needed for starships, which are planning on thrusting up to nearly the speed of light. Interplanetary rocket ships don't use them. A ram-scoop also has to have a frontal scoop hundreds of kilometers across, and the ion scoop as some major drag issues that make the concept difficult to implement. Fusion and ram-scoops aren't really "magic", as they are based on our known laws of physics- they are just difficult to implement with our current technology, just as Leonardo da Vinci could not build a working airplane with wood, twine, canvas, and human muscles as an engine. In all fairness, we are actually a lot closer to building this sort of stuff than he was to building an airplane, but you get the analogy...
True enough. Atomic rockets are certainly a better alternative to chemical or ionic thrusters. But you still need to worry about your fuel rods needing to be re-processed, as well as the fact that your shadow shield has to be fairly massive. And that last point is only applicable if you're flying around in deep space (something which I assumed the Pride would be doing, but perhaps it's more a runabout, as it were; I've never played this game) and not zipping by stations or other ships you don't want to irradiate. Then you need better shielding or need to keep your distance. Still, I definitely agree with you, and think they're more or less our best hope for getting off this rock anytime soon. As for the ram-scoop, this is true. Big and bulky and only useful for long voyages. Still, I think that's why a Bussard ram-jet would solve some of these problems, especially with a fusion reactor to power that massive magnetic field.
And I didn't mean to imply that fusion and ram-scoops are magic. I meant that in most science fiction stories, especially these sort of Raygun Gothic ones, the technology runs on nonsense, technobabble, what have you. As someone smarter than me pointed out, you need FTL to go anywhere interesting, and FTL is, by our current understanding of things, functionally impossible. So the author makes up something crazy and we go with it because, hey, I don't want to watch a bunch of bored astronauts on a reaaaaaaally long, uneventful spaceflight do nothing either.
Indeed. That was my point about the shadow shield. If you're going to fly around in dramatic v-formations or the like (the third dimension? In space? Naaaahhh, we'll just dogfight like it's WWII!) you need to make sure you're not giving all your buddies cancer. Or, you know, radiation poisoning. Nasty bit, that.
And this is true for the handwavium part. Phlebotinum, if you're familiar with TV Tropes. And while sometimes they were factually accurate, it's always amusing to watch writers more or less go, "It's a space ship that goes real fast because of stuff. Calm down." Because, honestly, sometimes a story just isn't about the ins and outs of hard science. Still, I've read a few things about current hypothesises for FTL, and it's all very fascinating. Time travel would indeed be a nasty side effect from FTL, although I vaguely remember a book where the writer incorporates that into the story. Basically, FTL causes time travel, so there's a more or less endless war going on, with each side sending messages back to its past self if they start to lose. Very clever stuff.
But yes, this is true. In all honesty, I've witnessed firsthand how sometimes it's important to put down the textbook and go do some real Science! because on paper, innovations are not always practical or cost-effective or the like. World needs more Teslas and less Edisons, as it were.
Well, distance will reduce the intensity of radiation by the inverse square- 1/d^2. That is, twice the distance reduces the intensity by 1/4. So, if your ships are far enough away from each other, no one will get radiation poisoning. So, no flying wing-tip to wing-tip, but you can still fly in formation.
SF is an odd genera, in that although the stories are fantastic, the hook is that the settings are based on real or imaginary- but hopefully believable- developments in science and technology. Handwavium and unlikely ideas make their appearance, but ultimately these stories are supposed to be about a believable future, not a fantasy one. Ray Bradbury once wrote that SF was so popular with young people because these stories present imaginary solutions to real problems. No impossible dreams, no possible solutions- and how can one argue with this? Who hasn't come away from reading stories about star travel wondering how we could send astronauts to a distant star in reality? Without those "crazy" dreams, how can we imagine real ways to travel between stars, or achieve any other goal big or small?
Ultimately, I suspect we need technologies that are revolutionary developments beyond current techniques to travel between the stars, not innovate refinements to current technologies, and this is where SF might be right. Instead of a better rocket, we need a new method of propulsion that does not involve expelling reaction mass. FTL often enters the picture, as well- at least if we hope to go and return within a short attention span!! Perhaps we will ultimately use multi-generational ships or hibernation to survive long flights to the stars.
You still need a shadow shield to protect the crew- don't forget that. Most of the time, atomic rocket designers don't place any extra shielding along the side of the rocket, so everyone else will just have to keep their distance, relying on the inverse-square law too dissipate dangerous radiation to harmless levels. The fuel rods only need to be reprocessed after a mission- the nuclear fuel lasts long enough, it is the propellent that runs out quickly. Nuclear subs operate for years under the sea, after all. The ram-scoop is for a starship- it doesn't even begin to work unless you are already traveling at least at 5% the speed of light, or about 15,000 km/sec. That's smoking, even by spaceship standards...
Many SF stories rely on ideas that are handwavium. I've found that some of the older "ray-gun gothic" stories are actually more accurate the likes of modern stuff like the innumerable Star Trek spin-offs. Ships often obey Newton's laws of motion, distances are portrayed accurately, rockets behave like rockets, and even when stuff like FTL is introduced the best writers try to keep it self-consistent. Some stories don't even include FTL star travel.
Half the fun of SF is playing with ideas, including those that are fringe science. As I understand it, relativity does not declare that nothing could travel faster than light, only that anything now traveling below the speed of light cannot accelerate to or beyond C. Both theory and experiment rules out accelerating so much as a single proton to FTL speeds, but we are not as sure about ideas like warping space or using wormholes to create "apparent FTL". Without any experimental evidence of any sort for FTL travel, these ideas remain mathematical toys, but who knows what we may yet discover? The biggest stumbling block is that we might end up creating time travel if we travel at FTL speeds, and this could lead to a causality paradox. If Hawking is right about the Chronology Protection Conjecture, that means we won't be allowed to warp space in the way required to create warp travel, but we just can't know until we have a greater understanding of physics.
Fringe science is a very effective means of interesting young minds in physics. If physics is presented as a rulebook drawn up by musty old gentleman to tell us "that can't be done!!", no one is interested. Physics isn't a rulebook, though. It is a wild ride through a universe where space and time bend in the presence of mass, stars explode, and time runs at different rates in different places. As for the brave star explorers, even if it turns out that they can't travel at FTL speeds, there are still a plethora of ideas for getting them to another star system, possibly even in their own lifetimes.