29 May 2012
100-Year Starship plans to develop technologies for interstellar travel. Artist impression of Interplanetary Society's Daedalus unmanned starship. (Credit Adrian Mann)

We've recently talked about the interstellar starship on our podcast and discussed it in the recent article here on the website, well now more interstellar excitement is beginning to heat up.  These topics are no longer just for the realm of science fiction and Star Trek.  Now a group of interstellar enthusiasts being headed by an ex-NASA astronaut are embracing the issue of the vast distances involved and are working on a solution.  To help bolster their cause they are being backed by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to begin their work.

The technology needed to get us to the stars may seem out of reach for now but as daunting as some of these tasks can seem initially, in the end they can become commonplace.  Examples of overcoming limitations include flight and nuclear fission in the past.

The 100 Year Starship

DARPA is banking on the human race taking one hundred years to plan and develop a means of getting us to a nearby star.  Their project is called the 100 Year Starship (or 100YSS).  It was set up to provide money for an organization to develop the means to get us to another star system. 

It was just announced that the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence which is headed by astronaut Mae Jemison would head the 100 Year Starship project as well as Icarus Interstellar Inc.  Icarus is a non-profit organization that was co-founded by Richard Obousy to develop technologies for interstellar travel.  There are other partners as well, among them the Foundation for Enterprise Development and the SETI Institute.  DARPA awarded $500,000 to Jemison's foundation and a variety of people from multiple nations to journey to the stars, hopefully by 2112.

Planning the Daunting Task

To begin such a daunting and momentous task involves having an audacious vision.  This vision is what Jemison outlined in her 100YSS proposal called "An Inclusive, Audacious Journey Transforms Life Here on Earth and Beyond."

Jemison said, "The very first term is inclusive.  Inclusive' brings that sociocultural perspective; it brings a trans-disciplinary perspective. It says it makes a difference who's on board, aspect-wise, gender-wise, geography-wise, national origin ... everyone needs to be involved and we need to pay attention to that."

Global perspective is the key to this project.  To drive humanity to the stars it must be represented by different nations and cultures.  Jemison is aware of such diversity as she was the first African-American woman to travel into space on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992.

Jemison's organization will also establish "The Way".  The Way is a scientific research institute that will embrace speculative and long-term science and technology initiatives.  This institute will eventually be able to create spin off for-profit ventures as well.  These ventures will help put money back into the project and ensure that technologies developed with 100YSS are used correctly.

"For me, the main impetus is: there's more for us. We are at an inflection point in human evolution and human history," Jemison stated. "Do we stay in one place? Or do we move like the amphibians that moved to the land way back in our evolutionary past? Do we move beyond this cradle?"

Jemison went on to say, "I just hope we're not running from war, we're not running from famine, that we're not running from disease, or that we've run out of resources."

There will be technologies created from this project that will have spin-offs which will help us to solve issues back here on Earth along the way as well.

Jemison thinks that space needs to be more accessible than it currently is.  Jemison hopes to unite the world towards this common goal and says "The public never left space exploration, they were just left out. It's our job to make sure they are included."

Public Symposium Coming

The project is going to host a public symposium in Houston, Texas on September 13-16, 2012.  The press release states:  "inaugurating what will be an annual event open to scientific papers, engineering challenges, philosophical and socio-cultural considerations, economic incentives, application of space technologies to improve life on earth, imaginative exploration of the stumbling blocks and opportunities to the stars, and broad public involvement."

Source:  Discovery.com, Huffingtonpost

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