The Power of Gravity

The most critical obstacle standing in the way of traveling in space is the gravitation of the Earth. Because a vehicle that is supposed to travel in outer space must be able not only to move; it must primarily and first of all move away from the Earth--i.e., against the force of gravity. It must be able to lift itself and its payload up many thousands, even hundreds of thousands of kilometers!

Because the force of gravity is an inertial force, we must first of all understand the other inertial forces existing in nature and, moreover, briefly examine what causes these forces, namely the two mechanical fundamental properties of mass; because the entire problem of space travel is based on these issues.

The first of these properties lies in the fact that all masses mutually attract (Law of Gravitation). The consequence of this phenomenon is that every mass exerts a so-called "force of mutual attraction" on every other mass. The attractive force that the celestial bodies exert on other masses by virtue of their total mass is called the force of gravity. The "force of gravity" exerted by the Earth is the reason that all objects on the Earth are "heavy", that is, they have more or less "weight" depending on whether they themselves have a larger or smaller mass. The force of mutual attraction (force of gravity) is then that much more significant, the greater the mass of the objects between which it acts. On the other hand, its strength decreases with increasing distance (more specifically, with the square of the latter), nevertheless without its effective range having a distinct boundary (Figure 1). Theoretically, the force becomes zero only at an infinite distance. Similar to the Earth, the sun, Moon and, for that matter, every celestial body exerts a force of gravity corresponding to its size.

Figure 1. The curve of the Earth's force of mutual attraction (force of gravity). The strength of the attraction, which decreases with the square of increasing distance is represented by the distance of the curve of the force of gravity from the horizontal axis.

Key: 1. Amount of the Earth's force of gravity at various distances; 2. Curve of the force of gravity; 3. Magnitude of the force of gravity on the Earth's surface; 4. Earth; 5. Radius of the Earth=6,380 km.

The second fundamental property of mass lies in the fact that every mass is always striving to continue to remain in its current state of motion (Law of Inertia). Consequently, any mass whose motion is accelerated, decelerated or has its direction changed will resist this tendency by developing counteracting, so-called "forces of inertial mass" (Figure 2).

Figure 2.

Key: 1. Object; 2. Driving force; 3. Center of mass; 4. Inertia

In general, these are designated as inertia, or in a special case also as centrifugal force. The latter is the case when those forces occur due to the fact that mass is forced to move along a curved path. As is well known, the centrifugal force is always directed vertically outward from the curve of motion (Figure 3). All of these forces: force of gravity, inertia and the centrifugal force are inertial forces.

Figure 3.

Key: 1. Path of motion of the object; 2. Centrifugal force; 3. Object; 4. Center of gravity.

As mentioned previously, the effect of the Earth's force of gravity extends for an infinite distance, becoming weaker and weaker. We can consequently never completely escape the attractive range (the gravitational field) of the Earth, never reaching the actual gravitational boundary of the Earth. It can, nevertheless, be calculated what amount of work would theoretically be required in order to overcome the Earth's total gravitational field. To this end, an energy not less than 6,380 meter-tons would have to be used for every kilogram of load. Furthermore, it can be determined at what velocity an object would have to be launched from the Earth, so that it no longer returns to Earth. The velocity is 11,180 meters per second. This is the same velocity at which an object would strike the Earth's surface if it fell freely from an infinite distance onto the Earth. In order to impart this velocity to a kilogram of mass, the same amount of work of 6,380 meter-tons is required that would have to be expended to overcome the total Earth's gravitational field per kilogram of load.

If the Earth's attractive range could never actually be escaped, possibilities would nevertheless exist for an object to escape from the gravitational effect of the Earth, and more specifically, by the fact that it is also subjected to the effect of other inertial forces counterbalancing the Earth's force of gravity. According to our previous consideration about the fundamental properties of mass, only the following forces are possible: either the forces of mutual attraction of neighboring heavenly bodies or forces of inertial mass self-activated in the body in question.

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