A Look Inside the 100 Year Starship Idea

by Paul Gilster on June 16, 2011

Technology fails at the damnedest times, which is particularly ironic when discussing something as futuristic as a starship. But then, a starship launched in a hundred or more years won’t be worrying about small cassette recorders like my little Olympus, which chewed up the tape on which I was recording the June 16 teleconference held by DARPA’s David Neyland about the 100 Year Starship Study. Fortunately, I am a wizard at note-taking by hand, which comes from my love of fountain pens (I collect and repair vintage instruments) and enjoyment of script on a yellow legal pad. I always take notes by hand as well as taping where possible, a good thing because I didn’t realize what had happened to the tape until after the teleconference had ended.

Neyland, who is director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, is an engaging man with a bit of a penchant for science fiction — he mentioned Heinlein as an inspiration, but also gave credit to Jules Verne. After all, it was all the way back in 1865 that Verne came up with From the Earth to the Moon, a remarkable achievement, Neyland noted, when you considered that the US was just coming out of the Civil War at that time. Yet Verne’s imagination not only delivered an idea, but also managed to communicate the excitement of a lunar voyage to later generations. That 100-year time interval fed into Neyland’s thinking about what might come to fruition another century from now, and conversations with Pete Worden at NASA Ames firmed up the idea.

The 100 Year Starship is intended as a small study that will produce ancillary benefits. If you think back to DARPA’s role in the technology of today, Neyland said, what comes to mind right away is the Internet. DARPA did not, contrary to some popular accounts, invent the Internet. What it did do was to come up with ways to connect wired computers and facilitate the exchange of data between them. You can find other examples, as Neyland did: GPS technology received early DARPA attention in the 1960s, while the methods by which cellular telephone towers exchange information, used all over the world, were another early DARPA investment.

Can a starship study produce ancillary benefits? Presumably it can, and those benefits might run across a wide spectrum of human needs starting with energy. Neyland likened what the 100 Year Starship Study is trying to do to the early space program, recalling that many of the benefits from that effort simply faded into commonplace reality as time went by. “If you’ve ever gone into a store and bought a DeWalt drill,” he noted, “you probably don’t think about the fact that cordless drill and battery technology like this goes back to tools needed in the space program.”

So where is all this going? Centauri Dreams readers will recall that there was a conference in California last January in which issues about starship development, ranging all the way from the physics involved to philosophy and ethics, were discussed. A synopsis of the workshop is about to be released on the 100 Year Starship Study Web site.

Addendum: The synopsis is now available.

We’ve recently talked about the study’s Request for Information, and published two responses in these pages. Neyland said there were over 150 responses to the RFI, but acknowledged that they ranged across the board, from serious examinations of the issue to applications to join the starship’s crew (about as big a misreading of what the 100 Year Starship Study is trying to accomplish as is imaginable).

A Request for Proposals will be out by mid-summer, followed by a symposium in Orlando — I’ve already posted the DARPA news release on that one. In November, a grant will be provided to a single organization or individual, assigning what is left of the original seed money, $1 million of which came from DARPA and $100,000 from NASA — the grant should total in the vicinity of $500,000. Making the case for why their organization should be awarded the grant will be the work of those proposing ideas through the RFP process, at which point, when the grant is awarded, Neyland said that NASA and DARPA will both walk away from the effort. It will be up to the winner of the grant to turn the 100 Year Starship idea into a long-term commitment.

So there you are. The idea is to seed a project that will produce spin-offs ranging from agriculture to propulsion to ethics and environmental issues, in the DARPA way of funding new efforts and letting them bloom. Benefits should accrue in research and education along the way, with success in developing the work leading to a cycle of investments that can bring more money in to become a self-sustaining effort. So I stress again, the 100 Year Starship Study (to which the Tau Zero Foundation, among others, will be making a proposal) is not about building a starship. It is about solving problems that will one day have to be solved, with spinoffs along the way, and the hope that the technologies developed may one day evolve into the real thing.

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{ 34 comments }

David June 16, 2011 at 16:26

http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/20110616/ap_on_sc/us_sci_starship_study

Its in the media. My response to our trivalizing media would be Who wouldnt want to live in Star Trek’s world. We sure arent going to get there if we focus on the trivial crap the media focus on.

Adam June 17, 2011 at 0:58

Starships are the ultimate closed ecology experiment, which should be of obvious applicability to life on earth. But they’re also, potentially, the essence of human ecology distilled for seeding another star system. To succeed an interstellar colony will need the means to replicate itself and its means of existence. Quite a challenge for technology heavy society like ours. Self-replicating societies will take some careful planning mixed with adaptability. The reward of that effort – order and novelty in a successful fusion – is incalculable.

Martin J Sallberg June 17, 2011 at 8:01

There is a possibility that warp drive might work. In 1994, Miguel Alcubierre proved theoretically that travelling faster than light by expanding space-time behind the craft and contracting space-time in front of the craft do not violate the theory of relativity (reference: The warp drive: Hyper-fast travel within general relativity). That calculation showed that it would take practically impossible amounts of negative energy. Another problem is that the original, discrete warp metric would cause an event horizon with Hawking radiation. There is possible solutions howewer. In 2005, ESA did a series of experiments that proved that a spinning niobium supraconductor cooled by liquid helium does have a weak effect on gravity, and ruled out all possible error sources. That experiment only used the very weak electricity generated by the supraconductors own rotation, but the effect could be made smuch stronger by conducting electricity from an external source through the supraconductor. That would still be slower than light, but it would still be useful for cheap, safe and environmentally friendly launches (which would both be good for the environment and for public access to space), and it would also be possible to combine many such spinning supraconductors each contributing their effect, making the combined effect faster than light. The lack of a fixed event horizon would solve the problem with Hawking radiation, and thus it would pe possible to travel faster than light and survive. There is still the problem of seeing space around when travelling faster than light, but that can be solved by directing the warp towards the destination and keeping the time (space-time would be distorted around the spacecraft, but not IN the spacecraft, so a clock in the spacecraft would remain synchronized with the majority of clocks in the universe). This is a idea of a innovative project, and patently NOT a starfleet application or some other unserious or misconeption thing!

Johnhunt June 17, 2011 at 8:54

Because my proposed EGR Mission involves near-term propulsion, radiation protection, ectogenesis, and android robotic childrearing, it would be an excellent fit for this NASA proposal due to the implications for interplanetary travel, biomedical, and robotic spinoffs. I think that it would logically have a fair chance of funding because, in terms of true interstellar missions, it’s various components are already at relatively advanced TRL levels and so could make the argument that it could actually be the first true interstellar mission.

Although $500,000 is a lot of money and could fund very interesting research and development, I wouldn’t be able to organize the work myself, so I feel that I couldn’t submit the proposal. Any ideas on what should be done here?

I’d also like to add that Craig Venter seems to have the same idea. From PopSci:

> Fragmented human genomes could be shipped toward the stars and reconstructed upon their arrival, spawning the first interstellar citizens and avoiding the problems of long-distance space survival.
That’s just one idea — proposed by genome pioneer J. Craig Venter — emerging from the field of dreams seeded by DARPA’s 100-Year Starship project. DARPA is collecting proposals for a conference on the starship project this fall. You can submit ideas through July 8; find out more here.

Johnhunt June 17, 2011 at 9:09

Is there someone here with the academic writing abilities that would be willing to join me in re-writing and submitting the EGR paper to the 100 Year Star Ship conference?

ljk June 17, 2011 at 11:39

David, would we really want to live in a Star Trek universe? For starters, most of the aliens are much too similar to humanity in appearances, behaviors, and cultures. This may be ideal if you want a romance with an interstellar babe, but something tells me the real galaxy residents are going to be a shock to most humans, especially those who don’t read the small collection of science fiction and factual speculation on non-humanoid aliens. Also, many of the aliens in the ST realm are quite hostile to humanity and the other members of the United Federation of Planets (UFP). The Federation also seems focused on finding just Earthlike – I mean Class M – planets, ignoring just about every other type largely because such worlds normally do not support humanoid type life forms. This flies in the face of the fact that the most dominant exoplanets are gas giant types, some of which may have their own life forms or perhaps their moons.

The kicker, though, is that the UFP relies on FTL drives to remain a cohesive whole. Warp drive and its variants are hypothetical at best. ST makes it seem like all you need are some dilithium crystals and a couple of guys like Scotty and we will be zipping to Alpha Centauri in a matter of hours. Look at the real literature on FTL methods and you will see just how difficult it will be to make them a reality at this stage, if ever. Hoping to find or make a cosmic wormhole or that an ETI will possess and give us the key to FTL travel are wishful thinking at best and fantasy at worst. We need to focus on and work from what we do know about interstellar propulsion if we ever want to make real progress in this field. Waiting for some miracle or miracle worker to come along and give us access to the stars is more like a religion than progress.

Regarding the use of the analogy of Jules Verne’s novel From the Earth to the Moon from 1865 to show that what seemed impossible at one time could be reality a century later, it is a good and true one, but I wonder if really applies as much in our era? From Verne’s time up to the early 1960s, most people regarded the future as a better place full of progress and innovations to enrich humanity mentally, physically, and culturally. Advancements in technology would be the key to all this progress. However, especially since the invention of the atomic bomb in 1945, society has taken an increasingly less optimistic view of its future. Instead of a shining tomorrow thanks to technology, the public sees a potential future where humanity is either reduced to primitive survival levels or even extinction because of the darker potential of that very same technology.

Now obviously most rational people want a better future for themselves and their descendants, but the past four decades have brought about a considerable change in attitude towards what to expect from tomorrow and what is most important for society. Space is often down low on the general public’s list of priorities due to its perceived abstractness and remoteness from the ordinary person’s life. It is possible that something as distant in space and time as a starship would be considered even more remote than usual for a space project. However, perhaps these difficult times will conversly make people want to cling to something potentially tangible and positive that will outlast them such as an interstellar mission.

Much of this will depend on how and who presents this concept, especially if an effort is made to educate the public in a way they will understand and see some connection with their earthly lives. That should be a large priority along with making the public feel a real part of the project. That is one goal the group Faces from Earth is doing, helping to make the global population feel and be part of missions into deep space.

Paul Gilster June 17, 2011 at 14:28

Martin Sallberg, a couple of points:

1) You write about work at ESA that

It is experimentally proven that spinning niobium supraconductors cooled by liquid helium affects gravity (ESA: Towards a new test of general relativity, 2005).”

This statement is incorrect. Studies continue, following not just the ESA work but also the later and continuing efforts of Martin Tajmar and a separate New Zealand team to see whether this effect is genuine. It has not been confirmed but is under investigation. Quoting from the article cited: “Depending on further confirmation, this effect could form the basis for a new technological domain, which would have numerous applications in space and other high-tech sectors” says ESA study manager Clovis de Matos.” That further confirmation is not complete nor anywhere near it, as Martin Tajmar acknowledges in the same article.

2) You are continuing to submit comments using an invalid email address, which is why I have not been able to contact you. Our new posting rules require a valid email for a message to be posted, and I will not be able to publish any more from you unless you use one.

Astronist June 17, 2011 at 15:41

ljk, when trying to get the public to see the connection between an interstellar probe (best not to call it a “starship”, which inevitably suggests a manned vehicle) and their own lives, I would suggest the following as the crucial link. Namely that if our civilisation avoids disaster and continues to grow, then *almost all* of our children will be born in and live their entire lives in space or on other planetary bodies. The interstellar probe should not be presented as an isolated project like Apollo, but part of our broad transformation from a monoplanetary to a Solar-System civilisation. The next step in this transformation has to be an increase in numbers of private passengers flying to space and back, which looks increasingly likely to happen during the next 10 to 20 years as work at Virgin Galactic, Space Adventures, SpaceX, Reaction Engines and so on comes to fruition.

Stephen
Oxford, UK

Ron S June 17, 2011 at 15:47

ljk: “This may be ideal if you want a romance with an interstellar babe,…”

Recently William Shatner has stately quite categorically that he has never actually had intimate relations with an alien.

Daniel June 17, 2011 at 19:32

About Tajmar Martin This is the last article the I found about his Gravitomagnetism experiment: Fiber-Optic-Gyroscope Measurements Close to Rotating Liquid Helium http://arxiv.org/ftp/arxiv/papers/0911/0911.1033.pdf

and This the new results about Mach effect by James Woodward on the Next Big Future:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/06/james-woodward-reports-consistent-and.html and http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/06/scaling-up-mach-effect-propulsion.html

If all of these effects prove to be real, interstellar travel will be sooner than we think, I hope that the 100 Year Starship investigate this Physics phenomenons and hypotheses seriously,like any other area

henk June 18, 2011 at 5:56

if Tajmar Martin claims to see an artificial gravitational effect, why is it so hard to do it again and let other people see it? Sometimes i do not understand why some people can do it and other people with the same tools can not come with the same outcomes.

Paul Gilster June 18, 2011 at 8:19

henk, it’s no surprise. This is just how science works, and the key thing is to be able to produce results that can be reproduced by independent investigators. It’s a goal that Martin Tajmar is working for, and so are the other people studying these ideas with their own equipment. But to this point we do not have confirmation from independent researchers and Tajmar’s work continues.

Rob Henry June 18, 2011 at 20:40

Actually Paul your above statement over henk’s observation may be correct in outline, but I think your lack of surprise at is misplaced. You would not be the first to note that several pioneering experiments had proved extremely hard to replicate by esteemed contemporary independent laboratories.

How do we explain that a few decades later, undergraduates, using equipment that is seemingly at least as bad, typically replicate the effect without difficulty. Can psychology really play that big a role in objective science?

Ron S June 19, 2011 at 8:57

Rob, your focus on “psychology” seems wildly out of place when you also (apparently) concede that the objective measurements show nothing outside of an experiment’s error bars. If there is a better experiment, well then that’s great. But there is no justification to implying that all but one experimenter has a psychological impediment to seeing anything other than the objectively-measured noise.

Paul Titze June 19, 2011 at 9:29

“Benefits should accrue in research and education along the way, with success in developing the work leading to a cycle of investments that can bring more money in to become a self-sustaining effort.”

Finding a possible solution to practical interstellar flight is a demanding affair in terms of research & resources required with no guarrantee of success or timeline for results. Does anyone here seriously think that this can be funded in a business model ie with funds coming from the private sector and expecting somehow to make a profit for its shareholders? If NASA was expected to make a profit, it wouldn’t have lasted very long.

This is a big problem demanding big funds. Solution? Introduce a permanent indefinate new tax, $10 / person. Funding problem fixed.

Cheers, Paul.

Daniel June 19, 2011 at 12:31

Paul Gilster I’d like ask one question about Martin Tajmar than I saw on the wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Martin_Tajmar

there said that: ” In June 2008, Tajmar reported a new phenomenon suggesting that signals could be induced in a gyroscope resulting from a new property of rotating low-temperature helium. He also reported that because the rings in the experiment were accelerated pneumatically, and not with high acceleration, the earlier reported results could not be discounted.[5] His further research suggests the anomaly may indeed be coming from liquid helium in the setup”

is still possible that this effect seen in the superconductor come from a Gravitomagnetism effect or this indeed come from an anomaly in the liquid helium in the setup?

Paul Gilster June 19, 2011 at 13:59

Daniel, thank you for your question, but I am not the one to answer it — I am no expert on Tajmar’s work, although I have worked my way through his papers. I’ll see if I can get a response from some one closer to this work than I am.

Ronald June 20, 2011 at 7:40

Paul,

now that you are on it, see also my latest comment under the recent article about Woodward and Mach (Progress Toward the Dream of Space Drives and Stargates): maybe it would be a nice idea to have an article giving an overview with comparisons/similarities/differences plus updates of ongoing research with regard to anti-gravity and the like, i.e. Heim’s theory, Tajmar’s work, Dröscher/Häuser, Raymond Chiao, Woodward/Mach, …

bill June 20, 2011 at 19:39

” Ronald June 20, 2011 at 7:40

now that you are on it, see also my latest comment under the recent article about Woodward and Mach (Progress Toward the Dream of Space Drives and Stargates): maybe it would be a nice idea to have an article giving an overview with comparisons/similarities/differences plus updates of ongoing research with regard to anti-gravity and the like, i.e. Heim’s theory, Tajmar’s work, Dröscher/Häuser, Raymond Chiao, Woodward/Mach, … “

I SUPER strongly 2nd that motion Paul; there’s such a rich amount of
info to be reported on & it will lead to some interesting discussions !!

Paul Gilster June 20, 2011 at 19:49

bill, I agree with you and Ronald about the interesting discussions to follow on these topics, and I’ll be looking at some of them in the near future, so stay with us. An update on Martin Tajmar will probably be the first on my list.

Maybe best to quote TZF founding architect Marc Millis from an earlier post on some of these ideas:

Regarding Woodward, Heim, and Tajmar – works that get mentioned in these comments numerous times, let me just say this:
- WOODWARD and his collaborators continue to make progress and publish their findings in a way that is open for examination and critique. I continue to watch their progress and am gratified with their efforts to be rigorous, open-mined, and accessible.
- HEIM’s work, at least so far, has only been hyped by its proponents rather than advanced. Plenty of grand assertions have been published, but none of the derivations or other details to support those assertions have been articulated. That situation is disturbing. I am still awaiting the emergence of such details rather than the recurring hype.
- TAJMAR is in the process of changing jobs and his experiments are still untested sufficiently by others to help determine what is really going on with the observations. I am quite curious as to how that will turn out when experimentation and reporting resumes. I keep my eyes on this one too.

And of course we’ll have more information as it comes in.

mike June 20, 2011 at 20:25

i noticed star trek was militarized. almost no mention of civilian leadership and when seen presented as idiots.

i think we should build a star ship and put all the wall street boffins on it. if it works we build another and then explore the galaxy (or at least learn from our mistakes!).

closed systems,hmmm. the earth is a closed system and we seem to be messing it up real good. i bet society collapses before we build a star ship. just look at all the atomic reactors in trouble in japan and the usa. warp drive, indeed!

i found a silver dime in change today. it’s worth $1.90 in funny money. what does that tell you?

ljk June 21, 2011 at 0:14

It’s not (just) about the starship

A 100-year project to develop the technology needed for a crewed interstellar spacecraft is a sure way to attract attention, especially when it’s backed with even a small amount of funding from DARPA and NASA. Jeff Foust reports on how this long-term effort may really be just a nontraditional way to promote short-term research and development.

http://www.thespacereview.com/article/1869/1

Paul Gilster June 21, 2011 at 8:31

Re recent requests for more information on the work of Martin Tajmar, James Woodward and Raymond Chiao, among others, I asked Jim Woodward for a comment and he was kind enough to oblige. Here are Dr. Woodward’s thoughts (and we’ll keep in mind the idea of a larger article surveying some of this):

“Heim theory: I’ve seen several presentations on this and read several papers, but I have never seen the field equation referred to written down with a following explicit derivation of the alleged predicted effects. When people do not spell out the physics in such a way that a capable professional can follow the details of the argument, I suspect that the argument in detail doesn’t exist. This is especially true when the “theory” being used is not widely accepted in the mainstream community. If you find a detailed derivation of the alleged predictions of thrust, let me know. I’d like to see it.

“Martin Tajmar’s work: When he first went public with his experimental work, he justified it on the basis of something called the “Tate anomaly”, claiming that in superconductors this suggested that “gravitomagnetic” effects might be many orders of magnitude larger than anyone in the gravitational physics community would believe. It wasn’t long, however, before he found that the effect he claimed to have observed did not depend on the superconducting state — eliminating the justificatory physics he had invoked as grounds for others to take his work seriously. Absent any physics justification for a gravitomagnetic field more than a decade of orders of magnitude larger than that predicted by established theory, I suspect that most people do not believe that Tajmar has actually discovered a new gravitational effect. In any event, without justificatory theory, he will have a very much harder time convincing anyone that he really is looking at a new gravity effect that has practical value.

“Producing experimental anomalies turns out in practice to be much easier than non-professionals expect. And getting rid of spurious signals turns out to be much harder than most would imagine. That is why professionals do not take seriously anomalies unless there is some attendant theoretical reason to do so.

“Strictly speaking, Ray Chiao isn’t doing “antigravity”. What he is looking for is anomalous coupling of gravity and electromagnetism in superconductors. He is a world-class physicist who knows what he is doing and has developed theory that suggests that the coupling he seeks might actually occur. Last I heard, though, was that he had not yet succeeded.

“Now to your main question: does any of this relate to Mach effects? The simple answer is no. Mach effects are Newtonian order relativistic effects that arise because of the details of how systems behave when they can change their internal energies during accelerations. They have nothing to do with anomalous coupling between gravity and electromagnetism, superconductors, or off-beat unified field theories. This means that they aren’t very trendy or romantic. But with a little luck, we can hope that they will work.”

Centauri Dreams thanks Dr. Woodward for this helpful contribution. Much appreciated!

Tobias Holbrook June 21, 2011 at 10:41

Hmmm… if humanity is to colonize other star systems, we need to know just what the minimum population size is to maintain an advanced society, or at any rate one advanced enough to be nearly independent (high value, low mass goods, such a computer chips, may be a viable interstellar trade good, possibly capable of turning a profit at prices as high as 20 credits per gram; certainly, drugs ought to be); we also need to know what the minimum mass of an industrial “seed” is – we don’t need a computer chip fabber when we can make vacuum tubes using much lower mass equipment, although if we can print them on demand it becomes irrelevant. It won’t be quite as advanced as current technology… at least, not in the same way.

The payoffs? Well, in the medium term (next 50 years), we know what to send with the people who go to the other planets in our system, and in the short term (next 10 years), it could possibly be put to use in kickstarting industrial revolutions in poor countries…

I contend that a colonial starship is already a self-replicating spacecraft. Forget von Neumann probes, humans have the right stuff. Especially when they get hold of biotechnology.

forrest noble June 21, 2011 at 16:15

Right now I think an interesting idea for a type of “starship” (but not the hundred-years-from-now variety) involves a space colony in our solar system that would be put into motion toward another star system. Of course this would probably be more than a hundred years for such a serious proposal to be presented.

I think in time space colonies in our solar system will become rather common place, with maybe 100′s of thousands of inhabitants with self sustaining life support systems and initial resources possibly coming from more than one part of the solar system. Many people living there will seemingly be highly educated scientists working on ongoing “space” projects. Such a space city might in the future could segment off a part of the whole colony to move off to another planetary star system where one or more “Goldilocks” type planets will be thought to reside. The benefit of such an idea would be that very little new resources would be needed and lives would seemingly be in little jeopardy since the colony would be self sustaining to start with no matter where they went. Little fuel would be needed for the entire trip once the initial propulsion and desired rate of speed was obtained. Also rapid speeds that involve risks would also not be needed for this type of Noah’s Ark journey since a returning trip like the initial one might take thousands of years. Such space cities in motion in time could seed our entire galaxy and conceivably in time, beyond.

Amara Graps June 22, 2011 at 13:52

I think that you have the timing wrong about when the request for proposals will be released. Other sources I read state that the RFP will be unveiled at the conference (Sept 30-Oct 2).

Paul Gilster June 22, 2011 at 14:11

To my knowledge, Amara, the timing is still some time in the summer. I’m going by what David Neyland said at the DARPA news conference.

jkittlejr June 23, 2011 at 19:41

I have been giving some thought as to what the crew on a star ship might actually do ( assuming we eventually send a MANNED spacecraft) to keep busy and advance the mission. Physics, medicine, even astronomy can all be done back here in our solar system ( earth and its colonies) , the crew would have a difficult time making real contributions. Once arrival occurs there will be plenty of exploration tasks. In transit however there are only three things that come to mind as having real value: 1) maintenance and 2) upgrades and 3) manufacturing food and consumables
Of these, the upgrades will be fun! new software and information content can be uploaded from home base, but new hardware.. will have to be built. So there will need to be a complete “ships machine shop” Secondly we anticipate continued progress in the area of synthetic biology ( OK this is my specially but I do love it, so what can I say?) building new microbial strains, synthesizing new drugs and antibodies, even gene upgrades to plants and animals on board. so, a well equipped bio lab. -And when the ship arrives a host of new organism engineering projects will adapt the mission to the new environment. While basic research can be done at home base, actually making the organisms will have to take place on site, and with 5 to 10 year turn around time for lightspeed communications, most immediate fixes to equipment and organism modifications will have to be designed and built by the crew. Viva synthetic bio in space!

Ronald June 24, 2011 at 5:45

@ jkittlejr: “I have been giving some thought as to what the crew on a star ship might actually do”.

Unless it’s a true generational ship/space colony, I think: sleep in deep hibernation/suspended animation, for by far most of the time.
Because that is the simplest, safest, least consuming.
I can imagine the crew taking turns on a kind of watch. Maintenance, upgrades etc. should best be left to machines as much as possible with minimum human interference.
That was one of the (rather few) parts of Avatar which could be scientifically accurate.

Unless we so find an FTL breakthrough propulsion, I believe the future of *human* interstellar travel will largely depend on a combination of life-extension plus ‘hibernation’.

Ronald June 24, 2011 at 6:03

Paul Gilster June 21, 2011 at 8:31, ref. Dr. Woodward’s thoughts on anti-gravity/breakthrough:
Paul, you rock!

However, Dr. Woodward’s thoughts do not make me a lot more cheerful with regard to breakthrough propulsion, especially the garden-varieties that I consider most viable, the anti-gravity related ones mentioned here.

Heim’s theory and its recent offspring, Dröscher/Häuser, has little or no usable results to show for, Tajmar is almost out of a job, Chiao has no success, Woodward/Mach???

Personally I find Chiao very intersting precisely because of its potential coupling of gravity and electromagnetism, a kind of unified theory. The way I understood it (I may be wrong though), it could potentially work in an ‘anti-gravity’ way, Chiao himself calls it a ‘gravity mirror’.

jkittlejr June 24, 2011 at 15:52

There are moral issues with sending out “multi generational ” star ships, though some parents might be willing to commit their children to a life confined to a ship. As a Biologist, there are no obvious ways to arrange for “suspended animation” I would bet on Fusion being a solved problem and advanced propulsion being a ” done deal ” before we can warehouse humans in storage. -Frozen ova etc are fine. I place suspended animation as more probable than time travel, but less plausible than simple life extension to 120 years, and the development of propulsion systems to reach 0.1 C .
Taken together, the crew has to look at a mission lasting 75 yrs or more subjective time, one way as the most probably scenario if we are to launch this in the next 100 years ( baring new physics) . That is a lot of time to spend “on watch”. For early missions, AI systems may have to do the job (will they get bored too?) in place of humans. Why send humans out to places with a high probability that the location will prove hostile to colonization? However, if we first learn to colonize icy moons and dwarf planets of our system, explorers might have a better shot at finding something that “looks like home” – I suspect that dwarf planets around Wolf 359 look a lot like Eris or Ceres. these considerations are why I think the first starship passengers will need to be builders and designers.

Tobias Holbrook June 24, 2011 at 17:42

Well, a lot of it will depend on what sort of Fusion we get – if we have “simple” D-He3 fusion, we’re limited by the need for propellent tanks (although these can be made arbitrarily large), whereas Lithium or Boron fusion allows us to use “fuel rods”, with crazily high mass ratio’s. The determining factor of fusion-drive starship velocity, I believe, will be the cost of the fusion fuel. Which, for those living around Neptune, Uranus, or Saturn, could be quite low. A ship with a Vex of 0.08c and a mass ratio of 1000 should be able to manage to total deltaV of 0.5c. Though, we’ll need to decelerate… if we can manage even higher mass ratio’s, such as 10,000, we can get up to 0.62c one way deltaV…

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again – the main, and in some ways only. factor affecting the cost of fusion starships is the cost of the fuel, and the only budget that affects their viability is the monetary one (what else are people going to spend the energy on, if not mega engineering projects?)

Ronald July 4, 2011 at 9:18

With regard to recent discussion threads about Woodward/Mach, Heim, FTL etc.: Next Big Future has an interesting topic about falsification of Heim:
http://nextbigfuture.com/2011/07/heim-theory.html#more

Michael D. Houst December 2, 2011 at 14:16

We have the capability right now to begin sending interstellar probes to nearby systems. Not on a shoe string budget, and only the nearest ones would be reachable in a single lifespan. But our ability to image those systems is improving faster than our propulsion tech, which reduces the inducement to actually send things there.

Paul:

On the funding issue, never collect taxes unless they are dedicated to, and have a well defined purpose for them. General R&D&E is too broad and too undefined to merit putting any money toward. ESPECIALLY if it is by government mandate; i.e. pork barrel spending for the never disclosed purpose of enriching the person who proposed the legislation.

Mike:

The Earth is NOT a closed system. Rather, it is a dynamic system that only appears to be in equilibrium, and only over ordinary human life spans and human perception. We receive solar energy from outside our system. We store energy in chemical bonding via plant life, mechanically by evaporation of water, etc. We lose energy by radiation into space. We gain mass via dust and materials falling into our planetary gravity well. We lose atmosphere by solar wind and excitation via radiation.

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