So Why Don't We Have One?
The long end of the trip takes about 21 months. At about this point the guys at NASA stopped listening, because who the hell wants to wait two years to be able to send another shuttle?
This also means the departure times are non-negotiable. Still working out the kinks on your little Mars rover? Too bad, the bus is leaving! Better luck next time, assholes!
Farming Man-Made Space Meat
Ever wanted to know what panda tastes like? How about orangutang? What if we told you that you could have meat from any animal on the planet you like. You could even find out what person tastes like (and don't pretend you haven't wondered)! All you would need is a small tissue sample.
A few years back, the fellows at NASA were working on improving their astronauts' dinners, since one of the major complaints they got from the crews was the food. Eating freeze-dried mystery meals apparently gets old after a few weeks, and they wanted steak dammit.
Because they couldn't bring a whole cow up with them without accidentally creating the plot for the next animated movie from Dreamworks, NASA thought of a different solution: Why don't they make their own steak?
It was as close as we got to the Star Trek style replicators. Basically they took a vat of nutrient-rich water, threw in some chemicals to induce cell division, and dropped a few small samples of fish muscle in. A few days later they had several small lumps of fish-meat. They then cooked it up in a pan of oil with a little bit of garlic, some lemon, and a just a touch of cracked pepper.
So Why Don't We Have It?
The result looked and even smelled like fish, but when they asked for a volunteer to taste it, they quickly realized no one wanted to eat a $200 lab-grown muscle tumor.
That's a problem, because NASA wants to go to Mars in the next few decades and the crew could spend up to two years in space. So either astronauts develop a taste for tumor or NASA's is going to have to find a Black Agnus with outstanding hand eye coordination.
Project Daedalus: The 50,000 Ton Interstellar Suicide Machine
While at one of their zany science parties, the British Interplanetary Society (yes, it's an actual organization, and yes, they actually hold zany parties) decided to seek the answer to a problem: How can you achieve interstellar travel with technology available now, or in the near future?
The model they came up with was a 570-foot behemoth called the Daedalus. Powered by nuclear fusion from 50,000 metric tons of helium-3 and deuterium fuel, it could get up to the speed of 21,277,777.8 meters per second, fast enough get from LA to Paris in a brisk 0.426 seconds.
Of course, at that speed if you hit a tiny dust particle, the damage would be catastrophic. To get around this, they gave the design a big beryllium shield to get rid of all the small specs, and (seriously) a big cloud of dust enveloping the craft that would obliterate virtually anything that got in its way. That's right, a goddam particle shield.
So Why Don't We Have One?
Even though all the technology called for in the design has been around since the 90s, the cost would be (forgive the expression) astronomical. Do you have any idea how much it costs to get your hands on 50,000 tons of deuterium/helium-3 pellets? A fucking lot.
Also, because of its enormous size, it would need to be constructed in orbit one bit at a time, and when it costs 10 million bucks to put one metric ton of crap into space, it would cost in the vicinity of $540 billion just to ship the raw materials up to the construction site. If only there were some way to get these things into space quickly and cheaply... like a cannon of some sort....
Hey, remember me? From before?
The other problem was that, in space, stopping is even harder than moving. This thing didn't really have brakes built into the design, so the plan was to instead have it take a bunch of pictures real fast while it zipped by the destination, beaming the images back to Earth as it went.
It then would zip through the system at Mach 64,000, presumably going on to crash into a planet, star, or unsuspecting alien.
In other words, we had something that would cost hundreds of trillions of dollars, require cooperation on a global scale, take forever to get there and at the end, we'd just have a few photographs to remember it. Basically it would be like an interplanetary version of a family trip to Disney World.
To further diminish your faith in science, check out 10 Famous Sci-Fi Weapons That They're Actually Building. Or take a look at The Insane True Story Behind the Birth of the Internet.