100 Year Starship Meeting: A Report

by Paul Gilster on January 28, 2011

by Marc Millis

On January 11 & 12, I participated in a gathering of roughly 30 individuals to learn about and discuss the DARPA/Ames 100-year Starship Study. In addition to reporting on those events, I’ve included my personal commentary at the end of this report.

Recall that in October 2010, the Director of NASA/Ames, Pete Worden, inadvertently revealed that DARPA was funding Ames to the tune of $1M for such a study. This triggered something of a media flurry and shortly thereafter DARPA issued this press release. This January meeting was the first step in their process to involve the insights of others. I requested and was granted an invitation.

The gathering was held in a 1903 fort that had been converted a couple of years ago into a modern lodge and meeting area (Fort Baker, now Cavallo Point). Its location near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge provided a calm, out-of-the-way location with few distractions. The meeting began at noon on the first day, carried on (with breaks) through cocktails and dinner, and then resumed on the second day, running through lunch. The organizers invited Peter Diamandis (ISU founder, X Prize Founder, etc) to facilitate the meeting and Peter did an excellent job of stepping through the original agenda and giving everyone a chance to be heard.


Of the roughly 30 attendees (not including supporting staff, such as the stenographers), about half were from NASA/Ames and DARPA. Aside from one NASA HQ representative (the new resurrected NIAC lead, Jay Falker), no other NASA center was represented. In alphabetical order:

DARPA Attendees
Paul Eremenko
Roger Hall
David Neyland – Progenitor of this 100-year study

NASA Attendees
Matt Daniels (Ames & Stanford PhD student)
Jay Falker (NASA-HQ & new NIAC lead)
Rachel Hoover (Ames, Public Affairs)
Peter Klupar (Ames)
Larry Lemke (Ames)
Creon Levit (Ames – assigned to lead this 100-yr study)
Lisa Lockyer (Ames)
Alex MacDonald (Ames)
Dawn McIntosh (Ames – on temporary assignment to DARPA)
Alen Weston (Ames)
Pete Worden (Ames Director)

Other Attendees
Elizabeth Bear (Science Fiction writer)
Jim Benford (Microwave Sciences)
Peter Diamandis (Xprize Foundation, etc)
Lou Friedman (Planetary Society [retired])
Joe Haldeman (Science Fiction writer)
Barbara Marx Hubbard (Foundation for Conscious Evolution)
Mae Jemison (Former Astronaut, now active in various educational endeavors)
Harry Kloor (Chief science advisor for the X Prize organization)
Marc Millis (Tau Zero Foundation)
Alexander Rose (Long Now Foundation)
Jack Sarfatti (StarDrive.org)
Dan Shekow (Global Universal Entertainment)
Jill Tarter (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence – SETI Inst.)
Jacques Vallée (Euro-America Ventures & Co-developer of ARPANET [led to Internet])
Craig Venter (J. Craig Venter Institute, first to sequence the human genome)
Claudia Welss (Assistant to Barbara Marx Hubbard)

The planned agenda consisted of cycling through 3 break-out discussions (10 to a team), to discuss respectively the “why, what, and how” of an organization, where each cycle consisted of one team reviewing the notes of the prior team. The overall goal of the organization is to sustain research that will lead to the creation of a starship in roughly 100-years, and to inspire students along the way. By asking “why-what-how,” it was hoped to flesh out some substance to define that organization.


This brings me to an important point. The meeting and the DARPA funding is about creating an organization that could last for 100-years, rather than about the technological and sociological advancements necessary to eventually create starships. In fact, the funding is not allowed to be spent on any research or educational activities related to interstellar flight, but instead can only be used to define that organization. As much as I really like the name, “100-yr starship,” this study should instead be called the “100-yr organization study.”



Although there was some debate challenging the assumption that one lasting organization is the key element to make interstellar flight happen, the attendees followed that premise and the “why-what-how” cycle of questions. Next are some preliminary results of those discussions, but it must be stressed that these do not constitute conclusions passed on to DARPA/Ames, but rather reflect the provisional thoughts that came out in the course of this first set of discussions. This is not the final word.

Also, I am not endorsing, nor dismissing, these results, but rather I am simply reporting them to the limits of my abilities and my own biases. I post my own comments at the end of this report.

WHY go to the Stars?
After much discussion, the key motivations for interstellar flight were distilled down to the five items listed in the first column of the table and then voting was used to compare their relative importance from three different perspectives: (1) what the attendees felt for themselves, (2) the anticipated priorities of fund sources, and (3) the anticipated priorities of the general public. Again, these reflect the discussions rather than being “THE” final answers.

MotivationVotes from AttendeesAnticipated Public InterestFunding Source Interest
Human Survival 6 7 9
Contacting New Life 8 13 2
Human Evolution 13 4 7
Discovery 3 1 10
Spiritual Beliefs 0 4 1

In contrast, here is what I jotted in my notes from my own impulsive thoughts:

• For humanity to survive and thrive
• To conquer frontiers instead of each other
• Because its just so damn cool
• To find out what’s really out there

Two other provocative subjects that came up in the course of these discussions were, should this be an international or USA organization, and should humans be considered part of eventual interstellar voyages? Regarding international or USA, the group eventually reached a consensus (not unanimous) for an international effort. And after lively discussion about robotics, transhumanism, and who would likely go on the first missions, it became obvious that human survival, via expansion into space, was a key motivation.

Although the agenda questions included “Who should go?” it became clear that this question was premature. It is way too early to judge such things, and nothing done today about this would still be valid by the time human interstellar flight actually becomes possible. In the course of reaching this conclusion, there were several well-made, yet contrary opinions.

WHAT does the organization need to do to fulfill those motivations?
Rather than sticking to the task of defining what an organization needs to do to last long enough to enable interstellar flight, the discussion turned instead to contemplating some of the milestones that would have to occur toward enabling interstellar flight. This is what they came up with. Please note: I do not agree with much of this list. I’m simply reporting it:

- 5 yrs:
• Prove other habitable worlds exist
• Create a credible plan
• Create a world view of hope
• $500 million (receipts) blockbuster movie

- 10 yrs:
• Land humans on Mars
• Communicate faster than light-speed
• Generation of life from computer code without a biological cell
• Ability to sink carbon on Earth faster than we’re creating it (leads to terraforming Mars and other planets)

- 20 yrs:
• Image of other Earth-like planet
• Telepresent probe on the surface of Europa
• ECLSS (Closed-loop life support)

- 25 yrs:
• Reflect energy off an exoplanet

- 30 yrs:
• Non-propellant satellite to Oort Cloud

With the exception of echoing the need for closed-loop life support, I personally refrained from most of this discussion so as to not impede their own flow of thoughts. We (at Tau Zero) are already working to define such next-steps and I wanted to use this as an opportunity to hear an independent set of views.

HOW can an organization be created and how can it achieve such milestones?
This part of the discussion never really jelled for a number of reasons. First, little time was left after distilling the “Why” and “What” sections. Next, the agenda was adjusted on the second day to give 1 minute each for existing interstellar organizations to describe themselves to the group. And lastly, this discussion met with very divergent points of view – too many to distill down to a set of key points in the remaining time. Despite that understandable lack of resolution, here are some of the interesting debates:

Origins of Organizations
The ingoing assumption by DARPA/Ames is that a new organization is needed for interstellar flight, and that need is enough to warrant a $1-million dollar study for its creation. That assumption was challenged by more than just myself. In addition to my own lessons, others also asserted that organizations come into existence after pioneers start making progress, rather than the other way around. Tsiolkovsky and Oberth, for example, did their work before there were rocket societies. Inspired by such pioneers, such rocket societies were later created to accelerate progress. [That pattern is exactly the strategy of Tau Zero: find the pioneers and help accelerate their progress through the collaboration and support.] Eventually the rocket societies and clubs led to government-supported work when their promising innovations looked like they could meet national goals (such as Apollo or the bombing of London with V2 rockets).

The main DARPA/Ames counterpoint was that if the right organization can be created and funded sufficiently, the rest would follow.

Type of Organization
While the consensus was that this should not be a government organization, most of the points and counterpoints were just anecdotal. The antigovernment stance seemed rooted in the frustrations felt by many. The US government in particular was criticized as being too short-term in its thinking and more self-serving than meeting the needs of governance. Nonprofit groups seemed to be the crowd favorite for a time, but the power of for-profit corporations was raised clearly as well. The point counterpoints involved the altruistic stance of nonprofits versus the power of commercialism – even if self-serving. When it came to the features of longevity and the ability to accomplish huge tasks, the role of government once again emerged. In contrast to the ingoing premise of a single, long-lived organization, the cycling of this discussion did more to accentuate how great accomplishments need a mix of organizations rather than one organization to do it all.

The point of longevity and the ability to raise funds also evoked discussion of religion. Several times throughout the other “why” and “what” discussion, religion also came up. I regret that I do not have the talent to capture accurately all those points and counterpoints. Those comments flew too fast and varied to be captured dispassionately. What is certain is the religious discussions got quite righteous and divisive. No overall consensus was reached regarding whether religious organizations should be a part of such endeavors, or even act as a role model for such endeavors.

Fundraising & Resources
Assuming a non-government entity, the prevailing notion was to secure wealthy supporters and establish lasting endowments… and to capitalize heavily on the fruits of the labor, even marketing the branding of such cool-sounding names as the “100-year starship.” Ideas for block-buster movies were provisionally mentioned.

Credibility was also raised as a necessary point in fundraising, but here I got confused. To me, credibility means that the organization has demonstrated that it produces reliable and relevant progress that others can rely upon to guide future decisions. In the context of this group, however, “credibility” was seen in terms of getting “big-name” supporters to first back the idea and then use their name recognition to bring in other supporters. The idea of putting an ad in the New York Times with the top 100 supporters of the 100-year starship organization was enthusiastically discussed.

While the prominent notions of “resources” were in terms of funding, a few participants brought up the fact that people are a resource, including the individuals who are making progress today and the students who will become tomorrow’s pioneers.

Lessons from Other Organizations
In addition to my own overt frustration that other organizations were not considered in the formation of this study, a few others echoed this issue. The omission of the British Interplanetary Society (which is just two decades short of a century in longevity) was brought up. To accommodate these concerns, the agenda of the second day was changed. Rather than using the remaining time to distill the “how” discussions to a short list , each of the represented organizations was given one-minute to address the whole group. I regret that my note-taking did not keep up with all those who spoke, but at least I jotted notes on the following (alphabetical by speaker):

Jim Benford: Spoke about Project Icarus (and as part of the Tau Zero Foundation)

Lou Friedman: Although retired from The Planetary Society, Lou spoke of the TPS and his own attempts to launch a solar sail mission

Barbara Marx Hubbard: Spoke of her Foundation for Conscious Evolution, which deals, in part, with the spiritual evolution of humanity

Mae Jemison: Discussed her numerous educational organizations and the importance of involving parents

Marc Millis: Obviously I spoke of the recent accomplishments of the Tau Zero Foundation, and our strategy to find and support the collaboration of pioneers and to keep the public informed via our Centauri Dreams news forum.

Alexander Rose: Introduced the Long Now Foundation, mentioned that it gets funding largely through a few wealthy folks, and spoke about their millennia clock project.

Jack Sarfatti: Briefly mentioned wanting to start the equivalent of “Star Fleet Academy” in the Presidio in the Bay Area, and his StarDrive.org.

Dan Shekow: As a part of his Global Universal Entertainment company, spoke of the possibility of producing block-buster, society-changing movies to drive public interest.

Jill Tarter : Described the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and its long history of listening for intelligent signals from space, and the support from Paul Allen for its latest antenna array.

Final Discussions
While wrapping up, each person at the meeting was given a chance to make closing remarks, many of which echoed ongoing discussions. Here is a condensed set of those parting comments:
• When another habitable world is found, the interest in interstellar flight will bloom
• Define the “Big Questions” whose solutions are needed
• Be sure to involve other existing organizations in future discussions
• Be sure to involve a mixture of disciplines. Social sciences and other nations/cultures were not adequately represented at this meeting
• Capitalize on the “coolness” factor

The DARPA/Ames folks said they needed to digest these discussions before embarking on a next step, but one thing mentioned several times was to have a “bidders conference” in preparation for a solicitation about studies to define the organization. No funding will be allowed for research or educational activities toward interstellar flight. No timeline was mentioned for when the next step would be announced.


When I heard about this study back in October, including the way it was disclosed, I was not sure if this “100-year starship study” was an opportunity or the emergence of a new competitor to an already limited market. I hoped that this meeting would clarify that, but I remain uncertain.

When faced with confusing situations, I prepare by devising a number of divergent hypotheses. Then, as the evidence unfolds, I see which hypotheses seem most consistent with the evidence. From my over 30 years in NASA, I have witnessed the extremes of well-intentioned, honorable initiatives all the way to the other extreme of self-serving earmarks with good-old-boy networking. Accordingly, my ingoing hypotheses spanned those possibilities. Frankly, what I saw in the meeting reminded me of both those extremes, and I am still not sure how this study will transpire.

The emphasis on creating a new organization was loud and clear. Since the funding is constrained to support only the definition of an organization (no research, no education), and since other organizations already exist that are devoted to meeting the topic challenges (Tau Zero, British Interplanetary Society, The Planetary Society, and others with their niches, such as SETI) there is already a disconnect between the premise of this study and what is already happening in the world.

I must also be frank in my own self-serving biases. I started Tau Zero to chip away at the unknowns toward making interstellar flight an eventual reality, and with the help of dozens of others, we investigated the issues and options to arrive at our strategy of finding and supporting the pioneers, and using journalists and artists to tell their story along the way. Hence, I have a great deal of possessiveness regarding how interstellar flight should be organizationally pursued. In my mind and with most (not all) of my network, we are doing exactly what fits current realities. Adding another organization in the mix would be more disruptive than fruitful. Instead I would love to apply that $1M to the 30+ task proposals we have in our queue, and to finally fund the admin support we need to deal with the dozens of offers of volunteer help and permanently fix our damn, broken website (volunteers are wonderful, but can only do so much).

Regardless of how this DARPA/Ames study plays out, my cohorts and I will continue to pursue interstellar flight as we have – which includes forging collaborations with other complimentary organizations. That collaboration might now have to be accelerated to respond to any RFPs (Requests for Proposals) issued by Ames. At the meeting, Lou Friedman suggested forming some sort of “Interstellar Alliance” to respond, and I recently learned that such notions are shared by others who were not invited to the January meeting.

When DARPA/Ames does announce their next step, I hope that all of us can respond in a constructive way, to help shape this initiative into something for the greater good. Time will tell.

In the meantime, we at Tau Zero will continue our efforts. As stated in our November status report, we are beginning active fundraising this year and plan to shift from a donations-only model to a membership format. Also, the results of our November organization meeting – with more details about our priorities and how we operate – will be revealed here on Centauri Dreams when ready.



Bounty January 28, 2011 at 14:58

I worry that the first goldilocks planet discovery will not lead do much, or that interest will not endure. Arguments about why it may or may not have water and the lack of 100% proof of life will make it fade in the news etc. The discovery of life on another planet in our solar system would probably evoke a stronger response. Same for other ambitious solar missions. Maybe DARPA should be funding the “50-year Colonize Space Study.” Perhaps the “50-year Space Mining Study.”

Of course that’s starting to sound a little bit like the ISS, except with more ambition. Or the proposed but hardly acted on Moon, Mars and asteroid missions. I think one of the big problems with ISS, is not many in the public know what they’re doing up there, other than comming and going. I think we should hang a big telescope off of it, so we can have pretty pictures show up in the nightly news comming from the ISS. It could have a modular back end to swap out CCD’s and other devices tuned for different wavelengths etc. Ha, instead of de-orbiting Hubble in 2014, they can just lash it to the side of the ISS.

J. R. January 28, 2011 at 15:07

Very good article. You did an excellent job putting this together.

I partially disagree with your definition of credibility. When beginning a project, credibility comes from those who are selected to run and support the project. Progress comes later. For example, Project Icarus gets its credibility from the team that they have put together. The progress they make adds to the credibility.

Istvan January 28, 2011 at 15:51

I probably am shooting too quickly from the hip, but it strikes me that this DARPA effort, though well-intentioned, is deeply misguided on several levels and assumptions. Some of the “requirements” output from this meeting, such as ability to send information FTL, are simply laughable.

I would assert in apparent agreement with Millis and Gilster, that the needed organizations already exist at least as potentials, and that it is “merely” a matter of building capability within, exposure for, and cooperation among said organizations that is required. The discussion of the topic of credibility for the putative organization is directly relevant, but I find the study group’s approach to “credibility” sadly amusing and a statement about modern society. I agree strongly that their postulated approach is not what /should/ be necessary to establish “credibility”, but I cannot argue that it could be the sort of thing that actually may /be/ necessary.

Still digesting so much of this information. Thanks for this detailed report.

Interstellar Bill January 28, 2011 at 15:53

Pot-boiler thriller novels are replete with shadowy, centuries-old secret organizations and conspiracies. Perhaps their authors could give some pointers as to what concrete steps a ‘Brotherhood’ took to guarantee millenia of longevity.

Humor aside, 100-year organizations will surely become common once the problem of old age is solved. Today’s young people will undoubtedly live to see this for themselves.

Don’t count on a habitable planet being close enough (< 100 ly) to motivate any manned mission. If fact, it would be a Cosmic Crime to even land on another Earth and contaminate it with our diseases and pests.

No Earth-based civilization could ever be wealthy enough to build manned starships. Only a vast space-based civilization of millions of solar-orbiting mega-habs, and population of trillions, could afford such an endeavor, and they won't care about habitable planets, but about dispersed matter. Thus their #1 destination will be Epsilon Eridani, and similar stars in other Galactic Directions, where huge asteroid belts will lure the Space People. Hibernation technology is a must for voyages of centuries or millenia, since nobody will send zygotes and robots, since their culture will not be propagated (besides which it would be severe child abuse).

Before a manned expedition, unmanned robots would have built a decelerator at the destination star. Choice of flight speed is a tradeoff between reduced duration but increased radiation flux and reduced shielding, resulting in a minimum-dose speed. Considering that a nuclear detonation has the same intrinsic kinetic energy as a 0.05c projectile, it is rather blithe to talk of speeds much above 0.1c, which is that of a 4.3Mev proton. At 0.3c you pay nine times the energy cost per pound and need 3 times the shielding mass for the same voyage dose. Perhaps the initial robots could be sent that fast, but not significant numbers of people. A minimum-size founding population would have to be many thousands, so sending fewer people sooner would be useless, except for a small initial cadre to help the robots prepare for the immigrants.

Instead of looking forward to habitable exoplanets, the most significant astronomical discoveries will be what nearby stars have the biggest asteroid belts. Unfortunately, it's hard to picture how such small bodies would ever be found telescopically, just their tell-tale dust. This will be a job for the first probes, but only if they can slow down at their destination, which seems feasible given high-acceleration space-based launchers (100 gees, anyone?). The spacecraft would be launched in pieces that would assemble themselves during the voyage to make a fueled spacecraft capable of stopping. It will be at least 200 years before such launchers are feasible. Because a relativistic mass-launcher would be the ultimate weapon if aimed at anything in the solar system, the launchers would be guarded by large military forces.

The ultimate goal of star travel will be to establish Dyson Swarms about massive young stars, with ten thousand times the power of the sun and vast discs of dispersed pre-planetary material. In a few millenia the Pleiades will begin to be enveloped, eventually to go dark. In ten million years the entire Galaxy will be dark. Because we haven't seen this occur anywhere in the Universe is the most powerful indication of all that We Are Alone.

Enzo January 28, 2011 at 17:30

What is a “Telepresent probe on the surface of Europa” ?

Eniac January 28, 2011 at 17:32


This will be a job for the first probes, but only if they can slow down at their destination, which seems feasible given high-acceleration space-based launchers (100 gees, anyone?). The spacecraft would be launched in pieces that would assemble themselves during the voyage to make a fueled spacecraft capable of stopping. It will be at least 200 years before such launchers are feasible. Because a relativistic mass-launcher would be the ultimate weapon if aimed at anything in the solar system, the launchers would be guarded by large military forces.

To accelerate to 0.1 c at 100 gees, your launcher would need to be v^2/a = 900 million kilometers (~ 6 AU) long, as well as ramrod straight.

Good news: It would be useless as a weapon, as it would be impossible to aim, especially at moving targets such as spacecraft or planets. Much like trying to kill a fly with a cannon.

Bad news: It would be difficult and expensive to build (going for that understatement of the year award, here, again).

Eniac January 28, 2011 at 17:49

There are plenty of examples of organizations older than 100 years. Many nations (including ours), religious organizations (how long for the catholic church?), companies, and comparatively frivolous things such as scouts, fraternities, sports teams and hobbyist associations.

Most prominent among them, and perhaps most suitable for our purpose, are universities. Combining teaching and research makes a lot of sense, especially if the research is of the kind that does not have immediate profitable uses. The university is the natural manifestation of this model, and has worked well for many centuries.

Could this be the solution?

J.R.C. January 28, 2011 at 18:57

What is, “Reflecting energy off an Exoplanet”? Is it a proposed mission? How does it work? I googled that topic and could not find any sources of information related to that subject.

Marc G Millis January 28, 2011 at 19:25


Yes, universities were brought up as being a part of this, and collaborating with universities is felt to be essential. Could one university lead such a thing objectively – without tainting the process with being too parochial? Regardless of the discussions, it really seems that the folks at NASA Ames have got DARPA funding to start their own spin-off organization, regardless of any other precedents. I’m not sure the degree to which they will act on external suggestions.

Astronist January 28, 2011 at 19:42

Marc, thank you for your excellent report.

As Interstellar Bill implies, if you want to see a real starship built then you’re not trying to found a dedicated organisation, but rather to stimulate the growth of a diverse space economy. The first step towards that is actually to get into space economically and reliably, and I believe that is why, after leading Daedalus, Alan Bond dedicated himself to the Skylon project — there’s a real pioneer, and I’m sure Tau Zero is very much aware of his work.

Regarding the proposed blockbuster movie: I should like to officially apply to write the script, please. See synopsis here (inspired by my disgust after watching James Cameron’s “Avatar”):



Stephen, Oxford, UK

Cosmos University Founder January 28, 2011 at 19:51

This is a very interesting and important discussion! I have an idea for an online school which focuses on all things space-related which might be of interest. I’m calling the school “Cosmos University”. I have put up a rough site at cosmosuniversity.com to give people the idea — there’s not much there yet besides a forum, but you’re welcome to visit and discuss the idea further. Eventually I would like to make it into a real school offering courses in science, space engineering, etc.

When you consider that something like the “Grey School of Wizardry” has thousands of students learning magic online, it seems ridiculous that there isn’t something similar that appeals to young people’s imagination in a scientific way and gets them excited about our future in space. I think this would be a great way to promote space exploration long-term, but right now I am just one person and I need a lot of help to turn Cosmos University into a real school. Please visit cosmosuniversity.com and tell me what you think!

Eniac January 28, 2011 at 20:13


I did not mean that any given university should take on the task, rather I had in mind that a special university would be founded with a charter that would keep it focused on interstellar exploration, but otherwise operating like any other university. Not sure if this is realistic, but then, there are probably thousands of charters operational today that have changed very little in 100 years, some quite odd.

I suppose a similar idea has been realized already with Singularity University, although as I understand it they are not planning on lasting 100 years…. ;-)

David January 28, 2011 at 21:56

Reflect energy off an exoplanet reminds me of an earlier post -way earlier post to use a laster to beam a nano particle to centuari to produce a little flash.
Is this what the reflect energy is? If so good idea a test of propulsion in just 30 years.
Thanks Marc

andy January 29, 2011 at 6:21

I seem to recall a Stephen Baxter short story where they set up an experiment to bounce a laser beam off a planet orbiting Alpha Centauri. Unfortunately since the universe turns out to be a simulation that couldn’t handle the sudden increase in the volume of the universe that needed to be simulated at such a small scale, bad things happen as a result.

John Q January 29, 2011 at 14:41

It would be easy to be negative about a lot of this so I won’t be. Instead I want to share a remarkable list* of “challenge questions” also from our friends at DARPA. These questions are not so much problems as areas of research/exploration. When I first heard of the list (clearly based on Hilbert’s famous and highly-influential list of 23 math problems that would define future mathematical research), I was skeptical but the more I examined the list, the more I was impressed by it. Eventually, I was very impressed by it. My conclusion, and take it for what it might be worth, is that these are likely all crucial areas vital to the future of interstellar (“post-solar system?”) exploration. Please read the list of 23 subjects, it’s not long, and think about their implications.
* http://compmath.wordpress.com/about/10-the-big-picture-darpas-23-challenge-questions/

Eniac January 29, 2011 at 15:03

I think if you do the math on laser beams, you will find that it is not practical to bounce light off an exoplanet and see it. Note, for example, that the planet is already lighted by its sun, and we can still barely detect it. To detect reflected laser light, the laser flux at the planet would have to be of a strength similar to that sunlight. The power and aperture needed to achieve that would be truly astronomical.

John Freeman January 29, 2011 at 16:37

@ David:
Reflect energy off an exoplanet reminds me of an earlier post -way earlier post to use a laster to beam a nano particle to centuari to produce a little flash.
Is this what the reflect energy is? If so good idea a test of propulsion in just 30 years.
Thanks Marc

I don’t that is what is meant by reflected energy, but it is an interesting concept…. is there any concievable reciever that could detect such a minute flash at those kind of distances?

Perhaps if the flash was the nano particle hitting an oort cloud object well away from the central star.

Andrew W January 29, 2011 at 16:42

It seems a pretty pointless study, we know organisations can last for hundreds of years.
What action can we realistically expect to happen as a result of the study, are we going to see an oranisation set up to build starships? Nope.

Isn’t the biggest problem with imaging relatively close extrasolar planets the fact that light from them is drowned out by the glare of their sun, rather than the amount of light they themselves reflect in our direction?

Rob Henry January 29, 2011 at 20:50

Eniac seems to be stating the obvious when he points out the length of Bill’s accelerator, but all this really means is that it would be crazy to construct this devise as one contagious apparatus, rather than as many (admittedly very very many) separate and free-floating units. These units would only be momentarily aligned to their neighboring units during their part in the launch. I think that Bill’s hope was that they could be used for other purposes after the starship departed, such as conveying raw cometary material to handy spots for use by O’Neil communities, and so be of little extra cost to this community of trillions. This also explains Bill’s use of a ridiculously low acceleration – i.e. the parts thereafter would have little military value. Actually, 100 g is so low that I speculate that if you replace a human skeleton with cartilage, fill lungs with an oxygen carrying liquid, then submerge the body in water, you should be able to launch people at this acceleration if you really wanted to.

One other thing I must ask is what was Craig Venter doing at the 100 year starship Conference? Perhaps this meeting held far more potential for breakthrough science it seemed on first glance, but how?

Paul Titze January 29, 2011 at 21:47

Well at least the good thing out of all this is that it has generated discussion and more interest in Interstellar Travel. I don’t like telling people what to do with their own money however from Marc’s report:

“No funding will be allowed for research or educational activities toward interstellar flight.”

They should spend the money on research and education towards interstellar flight, no need to spend money on anything else, the rest will follow.

Cheers, Paul.

Keith Cooper January 29, 2011 at 22:24

Thanks for a great report on the meeting.

I was excited when I first heard about the 100-Year Starship project. The way I had understood it, it seemed to be about laying the foundations for a global project that would last 100 years and gather its own momentum. However, my impression from this report is that it is just about creating yet another organisation to try and run things; in other words, running before we can walk.

Some earlier posters mentioned organisations that have lasted centuries – religions, universities, even sports teams. What’s the secret of their success? Had any of those organisations been set up with a definite goal in mind so far into the future? That’s what the 100-Year Starship is trying to do, but does modern human society really have the ability to aim for a goal, and keep to the path, that is so far ahead? We’ve grown so accustomed to just focusing on the here and now and how we can profit from it, that we hardly ever look towards the horizon any more.

That’s why I hoped that this could be about laying the foundations, encouraging a new mindset of looking to the future, with existing organisations identifying key areas and putting ideas into fertile minds that could then go off and make this a reality, creating a framework to allow and encourage advances in science and technology that will one day make a starship happen. And yes, that sounds vague, but creating a definite plan now is pointless, because the details of that plan will change over and over again over the decades. We need to point to a place on the horizon, and say ‘that’s where we’re going, and however we get there is whatever way works best’. As long as interest and motivation is maintained, things will find their own course.

I also fully endorse the comment in the report that asserts that organisations only come into play later in the story – it’s pioneers, often individuals with an idea, that really get the ball rolling, but they need to be inspired and supported. If there is to be an organisation, then that’s what it needs to specialise in – inspiration, at both the top level and importantly at grassroots. We need society to be inspired and to help drive this, because we know that changing political whims and financial markets cannot guarantee government or commercial led interest for the duration.

There are also other factors that can affect such a long term project, for example climate change. If we continue to make a mess of the environment, increasingly ploughing all our resources into a losing battle, then in 100 years we may not even have the resources left to build a starship. We have to secure our future on Earth in 100 years if we are to think about heading to the stars at the same time.

Just one final comment about the idea of a ‘blockbuster movie’ to create public interest and raise funds. We already have SF that has inspired many of us here, written by the likes of Stephen Baxter and Peter Hamilton, Gregory Benford and David Brin, and Joe Haldeman who was at the meeting and many others – perhaps we should tap this resource more than we are doing.

Eniac January 29, 2011 at 22:25

These units would only be momentarily aligned to their neighboring units during their part in the launch

It’s a neat idea, but I doubt it could ever be economical to build a few billion spacecraft, then launch them all at great energy expenditure on precise trajectories to line up for one single shot. Besides, Bill wanted to shoot many parts that would assemble into a spacecraft on the way. You’d need many shots for that, and all in exactly the same direction.

As for the “ridiculously low” acceleration, the acceleration an object can withstand before it is inevitably squished into a pancake is inversely proportional to its size. As you increase the acceleration, your projectiles have to become proportionally smaller. To end out with the same mass in the end, you’d have to increase the number of pieces with the third power of acceleration. Third power is pretty steep, even worse than the square of velocity that makes the canon so super-long.

I would also like to put a damper on the general idea of shooting nano-particles into interstellar space. The amount of energy deposited in a projectile by the oncoming interstellar medium goes with the square of size, but mass goes with the cube of size. Thus, the smaller an object, the faster it will be eroded and/or evaporated. Any near-relativistic nano-particle will be completely destroyed by the first proton that it hits, and this will happen quite early during the journey.

I am afraid we are saddled with big, shielded ships accelerating under their own power for this reason and others.

John Q January 30, 2011 at 11:56

If you want to build an organization/institution that will maintain itself over time, two things are needed: first, an identified common purpose that members can adhere to. This is a necessary condition. It is typically easily met. The second is rather trickier. The organization must have a structure of incentives that benefits the members as individuals Just being part of a larger collective entity will not do. The Free-Rider problem will rear it’s ugly head at once and the organization will dissolve. Of course, force or threats thereof can do the job (i.e. over come the free-rider problem) as well as positive incentives, but for an organization devoted to interstellar exploration, this would be unseemly.

So what will the member rewards be? Heck if I know. Determining the rewards is what needs to be discovered. It’s not as easy as it sounds for we all know the usual incentives (membership cards, decoder rings, newsletter, right to post, etc.) are dull. The problem is that right off the bat there is an individual cost (dues) for joining the organization. The psychological payoff has to consistently exceed (and the more it exceeds the better) that cost or again the organization will fail.

Mancur Olson, economist and political scientist studied the business in two books*, which explored both the positive and long-term negative aspects of the phenomena (now subsumed under the wider framework of Rent Seeking). Allow me to emphasize: I find it distressing that that no economists of Public Choice theory, for example, were invited to the “100-year Starship” meeting. Indeed, no economists whatever. To be blunt, Sci-fi Writers and various spiritual types are unable to provide the history and theory required to understand social phenomena such as institutions, organizations, and the like. They’re perspective is fixed, lacking, and all but useless. We need a fresh approach. Science, particularly economic science, is good for that.

Notes: As for religion, recall Russell’s Law: whenever science and religion get together, it is always religion that wins and science that loses. Let’s avoid religion.
As for the name of the new organization (should it be felt that one is needed), may I suggest iSTTAR, interStellar Travel: Technological Advancement and Research.
* The Logic of Collective Action: Public Goods and the Theory of Groups, Harvard University Press, 1st ed. 1965, 2nd ed. 1971.
The Rise and Decline of Nations: Economic Growth, Stagflation, and Social Rigidities, Yale University Press, 1982.
I have read both these books and I approve them.

Marc G Millis January 30, 2011 at 13:04

Glad to see such discussion. It gives me ideas for future posts if for no other reason than to read and ponder the responses.

Regarding the DARPA challenges, I love that idea. What seems wrong with the ’100-yr’ project, however, is that it is more about creating a new organization rooted in Ames than an attempt to address those challenges.

Regarding ‘what to do, when we can’t predict the future’… that is why Tau Zero’s motto” ad astra incrementis” fits. Rather than attempt to predict the long range future before taking action, we are instead taking the baby steps possible today that cover as many of the options and issues that we can. We are chipping away at the unknowns, with an emphasis on the reliability of our findings (rather than hype), so that sound decisions can be made and so the future will unfold in the best possible way.
- Marc

Peter January 30, 2011 at 14:33

What I see happening ideally is something which would have aspects of a university, a research lab, and a spaceport, corresponding to the various challenges as they fit into the stages of theory, experimentation, and engineering. Regarding the approaches ready for engineering, I think the next best approach is NTRs aimed at SSTO, more along the lines of Pratt & Whitney’s Triton concept than the Skylon. This could be a more commercial arm of the organization, which would be the main funding source for the experiments and the university. So it would make sense to consider planting the seeds for a physical base in some location that would be ideal for testing and launching orbital missions in a country that isn’t still militantly anti-nuclear. There are some regions in Western and Eastern Canada that I think are ideal, such as Cape Breton and Labrador.

btw Marc, very insightful and interesting talk you gave on the space show, although if I were to offer constructive criticism I’d say you used the word “cool” a bit too much. All the best.

Marc G Millis January 30, 2011 at 16:02


Thanks for the constructive feedback. I need that sort of stuff to keep improving.


Astronist January 30, 2011 at 16:38

Re-reading your report, I am reminded of a chapter in Carl Sagan’s book “The Demon-Haunted World” (ch.23, “Maxwell and The Nerds”). Sagan invites us to imagine Queen Victoria convening the leading scientists and engineers of the age and ordering them to invent radio and television so that she could address the entire population of the British Empire. The project would have got nowhere, Sagan tells us, because it would be unlikely that her counsellors would have imagined that the path would lead through the experiments of Ampère, Biot, Oersted and Faraday, and especially through Maxwell’s judgement to preserve the displacement current in a vacuum (the insight that led him to realise that radio waves were made of oscillating electric and magnetic fields) (p.358-370).

It was inconspicuous, nerdish people following their own curiosity, like Maxwell, who made the breakthroughs that transformed society with radio and television — not a government programme with a defined end goal!

I totally agree with TZ’s strategy of supporting pioneers. As for the 100-Year Starship Study, it would do better to focus on general support for pure science and for near-future entrepreneurial ventures in LEO it is wants to be relevant.

Oxford, UK

Rob Henry January 30, 2011 at 19:21

Eniac, I can see that since the strength of any macroscopic design for a structure well above atomic dimensions is proportional to the dimension (and thus the cube root of its mass) the number of certain parts needed scales as the third power of acceleration, however this law clearly only applies to the most delicate parts of the starship. I think that you implicitly noted this when you noted the problems with the alternative of sending nanobots to construct this ship presumably from flat sheets of stacked and accelerated materials. Perhaps you are right that these, and other objections that you raised, do rule out the practicality of launch of most types of starship from a constructed magnetic sling, but surely you can not rule out all such designs. Even if you could, your conclusion that this rules out a magnetically launched starship from an external power source is premature. I think as the novel Ilium is a particularly powerful counterexample to this. How you would use Jupiter’s Magnetic field to launch star ships, and in particular how you would pump enough energy into one craft this way I do not know, but It does show that there must be other ways. From memory Dan Simmons figures checked out and the acceleration that he employed looked reasonable to me.

Rob Henry January 30, 2011 at 19:38

Astronist, why the emphasis on Maxwell. Maxwell was a logic driven genius following the natural path of science that others would eventually follow if he did not. Surely the example of Tesla is more interesting. Tesla was also a genius, but his breakthrough were driven as much by his miscalculations and inadequacies as by his (nerdish) ambition.

Rob Henry January 30, 2011 at 22:20

To Whom it may concern,
A few hours after I gave a grasping-at-straws way to propel a starship by magnetic external drive, I remembered a far more tenable alternative. I recall reading at book that was a series of papers from a conference on, I think, the Fermi Paradox. Among these papers were some focusing on whether interstellar travel was impractical, to which aim there was an attempted proof that such travel was only a little beyond our technology capability, even if far beyond us economically. The consensus from this conference was that this proof of concept ship would be propelled by slowing metallic slugs that were fired from our solar system with incredibly high precision. This precision and the stations to keep these slugs on track was seen as only a little beyond our current capabilities. I have lost all reference to the original book, conference and specific paper, and would greatly appreciate it if anyone could supply them to me. Since I have never heard any later reference to this method of accelerating a starship their must have arisen some killer argument against it, but what would this be? That factor must be far greater than the myriad problems that beset other starship designs, since this problem must have stoped the idea in its tracks. I would also appreciate it if anyone knows what it was.

NS January 31, 2011 at 0:15

While there are many things of scientific interest in other stellar systems, it’s difficult to see anything of commercial interest that isn’t available much closer to home. Surely in the next 100 years, the much more immediate goal of exploring (and probably exploiting) the solar system will be an adequate driver for space technology? Why do we need an organization focused specifically on starflight?

Eniac January 31, 2011 at 3:12

… however this law clearly only applies to the most delicate parts of the starship…

Oh no, it clearly applies to any part. There is a maximum acceleration at which even the most robust solid breaks under its own weight. Delicate parts just do it earlier. The size law applies for all.

That said, for robust solids made from strong materials that maximum acceleration is quite high, in the millions of gee’s for desktop sized objects. At a million gee’s, your canon would shrink to a mere 90,000 km, still a bit large for a permanent structure, but better than before. You also make a good point in that you could slice your starship like a salami. In that case, there would be no cube law, since the relevant size parameter is the thickness of the slices and their mass is linearly related to that.

Of course, there is the problem of actually achieving a million gee’s with magnetic fields, which is quite tough, especially at the higher velocities. And even more so when the projectiles are thin slices of large area.

A fusion drive such as that for Daedalus is much more doable, really.

John Q January 31, 2011 at 11:24

Marc G Millis January 30, 2011 at 13:04
>Regarding the DARPA challenges, I love that idea.

Thanks, I’ll take credit for that one. :) Anytime I share something I stumble upon that it works for people, I feel I have accomplished something good for a change. If the challenges contribute to the ongoing interstellar efforts, that would be quite a good thing.

>What seems wrong with the ’100-yr’ project, however, is that it is more about creating a new organization rooted in Ames than an attempt to address those challenges.
Full agreement. The ’100-yr project’ has some value as a reboot to our thinking, but much more is needed.

NS January 31, 2011 at 0:15
>. . . it’s difficult to see anything of commercial interest that isn’t available much closer to home. . . . Why do we need an organization focused specifically on starflight?

Serendipity. Casting our bread upon the waters. All that. It’s also exciting and fun. In brief, there is nothing wrong with it and given the 23 DARPA Challenges (as one possibility, I must stress) much that is good and useful may come of it. See the Heinlein novel, “Time for the Stars.”

Eniac January 31, 2011 at 11:42

Since I have never heard any later reference to this method of accelerating a starship their must have arisen some killer argument against it, but what would this be? That factor must be far greater than the myriad problems that beset other starship designs, since this problem must have stoped the idea in its tracks. I would also appreciate it if anyone knows what it was.

One fundamental problem in magnetic acceleration is that you need to create a magnetic field gradient which moves with the projectile. This implies a time varying magnetic field the time dependence of which is proportional to the field gradient and the projectile velocity. Any time-varying magnetic field will create an “electromotive force”, a circular electric field. This field cannot be maintained beyond the breakdown field of the materials that the accelerator is made of, and electric break-down is a very hard limit.

I don’t know if that is what stopped the idea, though. There are other serious hurdles, as well. One I can think of is that in order to maintain the precision you have to have stations (as you have said) all along the track. The crucial question then is: How do you get the last station in place? Is that not a challenge worse than launching the ship in the first place? Maybe all the stations could be ships themselves, that use some pellets to propel themselves, and guide or even accelerate others to supply the next ship in line. But then, the number of pellets making it through would decrease exponentially with distance, which kind of kills the idea. Or does it?

Bob Steinke January 31, 2011 at 12:34

Rather than studying how to make an organization last for 100 years they should study how to keep organizations from becoming parochial and bureaucratic over time.

It seems like many organizations start out with a lot of motivation to accomplish goals and slowly develop into something that only tries to perpetuate its own existence without caring whether it accomplishes the goals it was created for.

That would be a useful piece of sociology research.

Marc G Millis January 31, 2011 at 13:10

NS, regarding your question: “Why do we need an organization focused specifically on starflight?”

The objectives closer to Earth are indeed valuable. No debate there! NASA already exists and it gets roughly 20 Billion for those ambitions. Granted, the cost of those ambitions exceed those resources by roughly a factor of three. That community has become mired in arguing over which options are best, and in the politics of well-established constituencies.

History has shown that the game-changing advances come from looking beyond rather than just amplifying what is already underway [See: Foster, "Innovation: the attackers advantage" or the last Chapter in our 'Frontiers 'book]. History has also shown that those game-changing advances tend to come from outside the incumbent organizations.

As near-Earth spaceflight examples, look at the X-Prize, Space-X, and the space tourism industry. They are changing things in ways that NASA cannot.

Tau Zero is deliberately following those historic lessons which also includes the value of setting goals far beyond the incumbents to break out of the ruts of old thinking. By aiming for interstellar flight, even with only modest funds, we will discover the game-changing advances that those others can’t even imagine. Those others are too busy finishing what was started than to venture beyond.

There is a place in the suite of human endeavors to push the limits beyond what is obvious to all. That is the realm of pioneers. Regarding spaceflight, that is the realm of Tau Zero and why interstellar flight is selected at that game-changing, ambition.

NS January 31, 2011 at 15:01

Obviously I don’t have any objection to working toward interstellar flight (I wouldn’t bother with Centauri Dreams if I did!). It’s just that I question whether at this point it makes sense to explicitly separate the goal of interstellar flight from the goal of (say) getting humans to the asteroid belt and back. And the “game-changing advances” seem likely to come from outside any organization we could set up, including one devoted to interstellar flight.

Greg January 31, 2011 at 15:06

Wouldn’t it be helpful to focus on energy? since that is the key everything for humanity, as well as for interstellar travel. I would think if we focus on materials in respect to there energy densities, and/or releasing of that energy would be essential in moving forward. I’m actually talking more than the typical nuclear/fusion/chemical generation methods. I’m suggesting new possible methods, taping into molecular bonds, weak force, etc. I realize it’s easier sad than done but a new way to look at things may be in order.

Marty Grover January 31, 2011 at 15:07

As the others above have said – great report! A few of my cents:

* Commercialism is not necessarily an evil thing. Indeed, a common justification given for continued funding of NASA is the sheer number of consumer items that were spin-offs from space program tech. However, commercialism also breeds short-term thinking (how many companies think beyond a ten-year timeline?). So in that respect, a non-profit or university-based approach would certainly seem to be a favorable option for a very long-term project.

* Every organization is corruptible, no matter how well intended its goals when it was founded. So how to design an organization that will not lose its way during a 100 year period? If we look at global institutions, the one that has probably changed the least from its goals is the Catholic church, and this may because it places so much importance on adhering to its code that it is difficult for even Popes to change its policies much. The secret to its longevity may be (aside from being very good at money collection) that it has this immovable bedrock of rules, yet an outer coating of flexibility on top of that foundation that gives each Pope some ‘wiggle room’ to adapt the church to the issues of the current times if absolutely necessary (e.g the recent slight relaxation of the condom policy).

I read an interesting observation the other day. “In the first season of Star Trek: The Next Generation, the Starfleet crew members were smug and condescending about how superior the Federation was to non-Federation races. The show got more interesting from the second season when they introduced conflict to the characters”. :)

* Permitting myself a quota of one stupid question: if planets that could support human life are so far distant, could humanity not instead construct a Death Star style artificial planet and set it into orbit around a sun-like star in a solar system that is within reach of propulsion technology in the next hundred or so years?

Marty Grover January 31, 2011 at 15:49

Continuing the question of what model a 100-year organization should use for its structure: given that the majority-member even in a coalition of nations would probably be the United States, perhaps the organization should adopt a model similar to that of the US’ republic, in which representatives are elected by the masses. American supporters / contributors of funds might then feel more comfortable with the organization, as its structure would be one that they are familiar with.


Rob Henry January 31, 2011 at 20:48

Surely, to find the types of institutions that last the longest it is most relevant to study which types of organisation fail the quickest. From anecdotal evidence I think that this would work out as any organisation run directly by a cooperative but seemingly rational mass of people. If there are two things that people love it is leadership and struggle, so it possible that the key to organisational longevity is to employ these two human faults while avoiding their pitfalls. I think that too much has been made above on the religious component of the Catholic Church as a factor in its success – Christianity has absolutely no requirement for such an organisation. To me the only boost from religion in this case is that the organisation could refrain from taking sides in times of war, and could occasionally profit from the aftermath, yet the tenet of passivity would still allow them to appear moral rather than duplicitous.

Oh, and Eniac, your parts cubing with the launch velocity law requires an inverse cube root law of acceleration susceptibility with linear dimension. As I have admitted strength scales this way but flexibility certainly does not. Flexibility can decrease by up to the third power of linear dimension, and can alleviate or worsen your law depending on how easily such parts can spring back into shape afterwards, so I can’t see where your rule comes from, but thanks for all the help.

Astronist February 1, 2011 at 11:58

To answer Marty Grover’s “one stupid question”:

I believe that the major human activity in the Solar System over the coming centuries will be the construction of artificial space colonies (shall we call them “Life Stars”, please?) on the pattern pioneered by Gerard O’Neill, using asteroidal raw materials. The reason is that the potential habitable space using this method of colonisation is vastly greater than that on the available planetary surfaces — the Moon, Mars, Callisto etc.

This is then a major enabler of manned interstellar flight, both by demonstrating and refining technologies for supporting human life in space over many lifetimes and reproductive cycles, and by making effectively all main-sequence stars useful targets for human colonisation, provided they have orbiting asteroidal matter.

When we eventually discover earthlike extrasolar worlds, maybe with indigenous life, they will then be far more valuable to our descendants as objects of non-invasive scientific study rather than for colonisation or resource extraction. The plot of the film “Avatar”, in which humans come into conflict with local inhabitants of such a world, cannot in reality take place.

Oxford, UK

PS: according to Carl Sagan, there’s “No Such Thing as a Dumb Question” (title of ch.19 in his book “The Demon-Haunted World”).

andy February 2, 2011 at 16:22

When we eventually discover earthlike extrasolar worlds, maybe with indigenous life, they will then be far more valuable to our descendants as objects of non-invasive scientific study rather than for colonisation or resource extraction.

Sorry, do you have any evidence for this or is it just wishful thinking? It is nice to imagine that the future of humanity will be benign and utopian, but things do not seem to work that way.

Ronald February 3, 2011 at 10:16

Astronist, your coment of January 30, 2011 at 16:38 with regard to the need for more fundamental (pure) scientific research instead of or at least in addition to more applied research, is probably the best comment I have read under this post. I wholeheartedly agree, and your example of Queen Victoria is not just humorous but a very good historic analogue indeed (I already knew a similar one with the Flintstones deciding to invent the automobile).

While I fully endorse a starflight dedicated organization for advocacy of the vision (hey, I have been a CD fan for years now), such an organization also, when it gets big and important, will inevitable need to promote more fundamental scientific research and experiment. I am thinking here particularly of nuclear fusion and a few of the more promising ‘breakthrough’ fields of physics.

Ronald February 3, 2011 at 10:27

Having said that, like andy, I am not too sure about our non-invasive intentions with regard to an inhabited extrasolar earthlike planet, if we ever succeed to bridge the interstellar gap and particularly also if (potentially) habitable earthlike planets appear to be rare.

Though I do not believe in the idea of any resource extraction as a rationale for interstellar travel and settlement (any resource can always be obtained MUCH cheaper closer to home), the two main rationales for such undertaking would indeed be scientific knowledge and colonization.

With a view to this, it is to be hoped that the first and nearest extrasolar planet to be colonized by us will be a terraformable non-inhabited (primordial) planet or one with only microbial life.

Jadestar February 3, 2011 at 15:21

“The gathering was held in a 1903 fort that had been converted a couple of years ago into a modern lodge and meeting area (Fort Baker, now Cavallo Point). Its location near the base of the Golden Gate Bridge provided a calm, out-of-the-way location with few distractions.”

It is also the identical location of Starfleet in Star Trek:


“Starfleet Headquarters is shown to be located on Earth, northeast of the Golden Gate Bridge in the Fort Baker area. Starfleet Academy is located in the same general area.”

Did anyone in attendance make note of that in passing?

Jellodyne February 4, 2011 at 16:27

Short of a elevator, we’re never going to space with starships built in the gravity well. Never mind the silly items on the list, here’s an item which should be on it but isn’t — the creation of an autonomous asteroid belt mining operation, done by systems which can not only prospect, extract and refine raw materials from the belt, but can self-replicate in situ using local materials. The trick is determining the smallest, lightest ‘seed’ package we launch with the capability of building up to a complete zero gravity mining and manufacturing operation.

Incidentally, this sort of ‘seed’ is also just the thing to prep an exosystem for our arrival.

Eniac February 5, 2011 at 1:06

@Jellodyne: I agree, but would go a step further and recommend the creation of a self-replicating system on Earth before deploying it in space. The challenges (and there are many) are just much easier to overcome working in an Earth environment, and the modifications necessary for moving from Earth to space are comparably modest. Plus, achieving this on Earth already provides large benefits well worth the effort.

ljk March 9, 2011 at 1:21

Perhaps we should colonize space itself, not just any worlds:


ljk March 25, 2011 at 5:23

NASA’s 100-Year Starship Project Sets Sights on Interstellar Travel

by Leonard David, SPACE.com’s Space Insider Columnist

Date: 23 March 2011 Time: 07:24 AM ET

Shooting for the stars will first require a lot of down-to-Earth elbow grease, as NASA’s new 100-Year Starship project illustrates. The effort, to journey between stars in the 2100s, began with a workshop and now is in the study phase.

NASA’s Ames Research Center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are collaborating on the $1 million 100-Year Starship Study, an effort to take the first step in the next era of space exploration.

The study will scrutinize the business model needed to develop and mature technologies needed to enable long-haul human space treks a century from now. Kick-started by a strategic planning workshop in January, the project has brought together more than two dozen farsighted futurists, NASA specialists, science fiction writers, foundation aficionados and educators.

Full article here:


To quote:

“If we don’t eventually spread out – I’m not saying tomorrow or even 100 years – but if we don’t get off planet it is inevitable that we would go extinct, just like the dinosaurs,” Kloor said. “Either a natural or unnatural event will occur that will wipe us out.”

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