In a few short weeks, the United States Defense Advanced ResearchProjects Agency, or DARPA, will award a US$500,000 grant for a 100-year starship project.
The grant will be awarded at the 100 Year Starship StudySymposium,which will be held in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.
The symposium will deal with the practical issues humanity needs to addressto achieve interstellar flight 100 years from now.
The award will be given to the organization or person who comes upwith the business model selected to develop and mature a technologyportfolio enabling long-distance manned spaceflight by then.
What will that portfolio constitute? Cryogenic sleep? Advancedarcology techniques that willenable generations of space travelers to live on board a spaceship ona flight that might span millions of light-years and hundreds of yearsof elapsed time? Or other technologies?
The project’s a joint effort between DARPA and the NationalAeronautical and Space Agency’s Ames ResearchCenter.
Papers and topics for discussion for the symposium were solicited froma variety of sources, including scientists, ethicists, lawyers andscience fiction writers.
DARPA did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Tomorrow, the Stars
The winning organization is expected to tackle issues such as biologyand space medicine, habitats, and how to create public interest in theproject through various means.
Its business plan will provide a sustainable model for long-termprivate-sector investment into the various disciplines needed toachieve long-distance space travel.
Spin-offs from the research will be used by the U.S. Department ofDefense, NASA, and the private sector, as they have been over theyears.
For example, scratch-resistant lenses, athletic shoes, magneticresonance imaging (MIR), computer-aided topography (CAT) scans andcordless power tools all emerged from technologies developed for usein space. This websitelists some of the spin-offs that have benefited people at large.
“Certainly there could be some amazing byproducts,” Rob Enderle,principal analyst at the Enderle Group, told TechNewsWorld. “Finding away to cryogenically freeze someone alone could save thousands oflives halting injury until medical resources can be brought into playor developed, for instance.”
Problems With Long-Distance Space Travel
Transporting a human being billions of miles in space “is notphysically difficult,” Paul Davies, director of the Beyond Center forFundamental Concepts in Science at Arizona State University, toldTechNewsWorld.
However, it’s “immensely expensive to do so in a manner that wouldn’tkill the astronauts,” Davies added.
Attaining interstellar flight would require solving some challengingproblems, Carl Howe, director of anywhere consumerresearch at the Yankee Group, told TechNewsWorld.
Chief among them are energy, propulsion, environment and life support, and various social problems that astronauts may encounter when sealed in a ship not just for years, but for decades.
“You’ll need some way to both propel the vehicle and power systems forgenerations,” Howe said. Fusion might be an option because the travelers might beable to mine interstellar hydrogen for fuel, and we’re getting closeto developing net energy-positive fusion reactions, he added.
Propulsion to reach interstellar speeds and then slow down the spacevehicle “may be easy if you have infinite power at your disposal,”Howe stated.
The environment would need technologies beyond what’s available now.”While we have some recycling abilities today, we’d need an order ofmagnitude better systems,” Howe remarked.
Solving the social problem might be even more important than thetechnological solutions. “We’d need a way to keep people from killingeach other and wiping out the project,” especially since the journey might last hundreds of years,Howe said.
“The possible solutions could be so valuable that they’d clearlyjustify small investments today to investigate them,” Howe suggested.
Get the Money, Ditch the People
Overall, there will be two issues that might stymie long-distancespace travel. One is money, and the other is the threat to thetravelers.
“There are lots of ways to reach immense speeds, but they are allmega-expensive or inconsistent with human survival,” ASU’s Daviespointed out.
For example, accelerating a space going vehicle to, say, one tenth thespeed of light will need “inconceivable amounts of energy,” Daviessaid. Translation: You’ll need lots of cash to fund the travel.
“I would favor not sending humans anyway,” Davies stated. “It’s betterto send nano-probes.”