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Launching astronauts into space is an incredibly fuel-intensive process. For example, the iconic Saturn V rocket, responsible for propelling the Apollo missions, was loaded with 770,000 liters (203,400 gallons) of kerosene and liquid oxygen to enable combustion outside our planet’s atmosphere.

In pursuit of more efficient and technologically advanced launch methods, scientists have explored various concepts, including the idea of space elevators. This futuristic elevator would theoretically transport people from Earth directly into space. However, the technology required to make this a reality is beyond our current capabilities.

Another innovative approach comes from the startup SpinLaunch, which has developed a centrifugal launch system capable of hurling payloads at speeds exceeding 1,600 kilometers per hour (1,000 miles per hour). This method promises to be significantly cheaper, more fuel-efficient, and environmentally friendly. However, the extreme acceleration involved — reaching about 10,000 g — renders it unsuitable for human passengers, as even the most highly trained fighter pilots can only withstand up to 9 g for short durations before it becomes lethal.

Meanwhile, researchers in China are pioneering an alternative method that could safely launch humans into space without the fatal risks: an electromagnetic railgun. As reported by the South China Morning Post, the proposal involves using a colossal electromagnetic track to accelerate a hypersonic spacecraft to Mach 1.6. The spacecraft would then activate its engines to exit the Earth’s atmosphere at speeds approximately seven times the speed of sound.

Initial tests have been conducted on a 2 kilometer (1.2 mile) magnetic levitation (maglev) track, achieving speeds of nearly 1,000 kilometers per hour (620 miles per hour), with ambitions to extend the track and quintuple the velocity.

While this technology is still in the developmental phase, the future it promises is exciting. Imagine astronauts embarking on their celestial voyages not with a traditional rocket launch but by being catapulted into the cosmos by a giant, ACME-inspired launcher.

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