by Marc Millis
It occurred to me, after I wrote the post on impartiality and read the resulting comments , that a few other perspectives need to be shared. These encompass the necessity of inspiring visions, playfulness, complimentary contrasts, and tolerance for imperfection. And following that, I realized it was about time for another status update on Tau Zero.
Perfectionism is a neurosis that runs in my family. My dad had it. I have it. My wife and her mom had it. And now my daughters are dealing with it. I see it in many colleagues too. Perfectionism is when striving for ultimate quality exceeds striving for utility. It occurs most when we succumb to rhetoric about ‘excellence’ instead of utility and creativity. At NASA, the term “gold brick” was used to describe this.
I mention this because I’ve been making those same mistakes again while trying to convert Tau Zero from a volunteer, donation-based network into a fully functioning nonprofit corporation. Many of you have noticed the lack of updates on our public Tau Zero web pages (www.tauzero.aero). We have also not yet succeeded in bringing in sufficient funds to implement our next-step plans. While some of this is due to external circumstances and my learning curve of transitioning from a government worker into an entrepreneur, some of these shortcomings are due to my own perfectionism. I’ve been focusing too much on getting our next-steps “just right” to the point where I have not gotten things done. My apologies to our supporters. With this posting, changes are underway.
While lamenting on our shortcomings, I took comfort in seeing that Tau Zero is not alone in dealing with such issues. The Journal of the British Interplanetary Society has fallen about a year behind schedule and is still catching up. SETI failed to plan for operational funds for their telescope array, even though they succeeded in getting funds to build the array. The Planetary Society did not succeed at launching their first solar sail mission. And then there is Congress’, the President’s, and NASA’s failing to devise a sustainable space program. This also brings back memories from NASA of meetings where more resources were spent trying to eliminate waste than the amount being wasted (comparing labor cost of those meetings to the topic’s dollars).
Such striving for increased efficiency is more prudent and attainable when producing the same product, over and over (Cola?), than it is in these other types of organizations where each are attempting something that has never been done before. Pioneering work and perfectionism are not a healthy combination.
Bottom line, such imperfections are common. I’ll even go so far as to assert that they are an unavoidable consequence of human endeavors, especially those that are charting new ground. That said, it is a part of our human condition that I am still trying to accept in myself. And with that, I appreciate your patience as I bring Tau Zero into a new, more active era.
Where Tau Zero is Today
Here now is a list of activities of Tau Zero and their status.
(1) GRADUATE STUDENT PROJECTS: One of the recent set of comments on Centauri Dreams was about whether to create an “Interstellar Institute.” Since Tau Zero is not yet bringing in the degree of resources needed to create an institute, and because such an entity might not be the most effective way to spur wide-spread progress, an intermediate, alternative tactic is being implemented. Rather than creating one institute, we are looking to encourage graduate students everywhere to take on some of the unsolved, next-step issues of star flight as their thesis and dissertation topics (covering, “What’s out there?” “How to get there?” and “What does this mean for humanity?”). The first such thesis is already underway, at the USAF Institute of Technology.
Finding interested students is easy. Defining suitable thesis topics to consider and then getting my practitioners lined up to help get the students started, is challenging. Establishing working relations with the universities (their advisor must agree to the thesis topic) is even harder. I’ve started establishing working relations with other universities so that we can jointly apply for grants both for the student and to help pay for the services of our assisting practitioners. It is slow going, but things look promising. I feel this tactic will spur greater progress and broaden opportunities overall and for less cost and effort than creating a Interstellar Institute. I know a lot of students have asked about this. Bear with me as we work through the gory details of making it happen.
(2) MEMBERSHIPS: We are preparing to shift Tau Zero from a ‘Donation-only’ forum to one with annual memberships (est $55). This is to help both with revenue generation and to spur a more productively interactive community. Preparations are underway to: Set up the automatic database required for such actions, include volunteer coordination with that information, and create member benefits (newsletter, free downloads of practitioner presentations, and discounts on Tau Zero emblazoned merchandise).
(3) TAU ZERO STORE: In part to offer member goodies, and for revenue generation, and because we’ve been asked over and over again to offer t-shirts, mugs, and patches, we are setting up a store and designing products. We are also working to prepare “special reports” for sale that translate the journal papers that our practitioners publish into more accessible and readable documents for the non-specialist (this is NOT easy).
(4) REVAMPING TZF WEB: The glitch that blocked editing-access to our public website has been fixed, but creating new content is taking longer than expected. Producing content is easy. Producing digestible, meaningful content that is well organized is harder. We have created a private workspace where our practitioners can jointly prepare content in a wiki-style manner for later posting.
(5) ADVANCING THE STATE OF ART: Many of our practitioners keep making progress on interstellar challenges in their day jobs and on their own time. When they publish, Paul Gilster writes about their work, here, on Centauri Dreams. Related to that, we are asking several of the chapter authors from Frontiers of Propulsion Science to submit Centauri Dreams articles about those chapters and any follow-on work. This includes me writing about space drives.
(6) NETWORKING: Although Tau Zero has an abundant collection of space propulsion and power professionals, we are weak in areas of the humanities, and colony ship technology. I hope to meet more people in these disciplines at the 100-Year Starship Symposium. We are also weak regarding simple administrative support, but have recently made some headway there.
Here now is our current list of practitioners. For Tau Zero purposes, the word practitioner has a specific meaning. Practitioners of TZF work together to support the primary mission to pursue advances beyond the focus of other space organizations, using the challenge of interstellar flight as the driver for revolutionary progress. It is desired that practitioners follow their own instincts and make progress in their respective disciplines. When more than one practitioner shares the same interest/discipline, we urge collaboration to avoid duplication of effort. Better still, we suggest pooling of resources to make more of an impact.
ALSO – here is the opportunity to mix disciplines. For example, to convey complex sci-tech to the public in a responsible manner (factual, non-sensationalist, and absent hype or disdain), the journalists and artists on this list are willing to help the scientists and engineers. Reciprocally, the journalists want better content for their work and can call upon the scientists and engineers here for trustworthy content. Eventually, the suite of practitioners will cover the full gamut of topics pertinent to starflight, yet at present we are underrepresented in many key disciplines, such as colony ship requirements / technologies, the humanities, finance).
Tau Zero Practitioners
- Karen Anderson: Humanities, science fiction community networking (widow of Poul Anderson, author of Tau Zero)
- Dana Andrews: Technology, system level engineering and trend analysis
- Greg Bear: Humanities, science fiction writer
- James Benford: Technology, power beaming
- David Brin: Humanities, science fiction writer, provocateur
- Jean-Luc Cambier: Physics
- Brice N. Cassenti: Mathematics and engineering
- Adam Crowl: Mathematics and engineering
- Eric W. Davis: Physics with specialties in FTL, general relativity and the quantum vacuum
- Walter de Brouwer: Board member, fundraising, networking
- Kathryn Denning: Humanities, anthropology
- Robert H. Frisbee: Technology, comparative assessments
- Pat Galea: Project Icarus IT support
- Paul Gilster: Board member, Lead Journalist, and humanities, public education
- George Hathaway: Experimentalist
- Steven D. Howe: Technology, nuclear propulsion & power
- Jonathan Hujsak: Admin assistance, lead IT for Tau Zero
- Gerald P. Jackson: Physics, antimatter & nuclear
- Les Johnson: Technology, sails and advanced propulsion, and humanities, writing books for public education
- Jordin Kare: Technology, system level analyst
- Larry Klaes: Humanities, journalism & social networking (TZF Facebook fan site maintenance)
- Geoff Landis: Physics, and humanities, science fiction author
- Michael R. LaPointe: Technology and physics, specialty in electromagnetics
- Tim Lawrence: Liaison & assistance, USAF networking
- Kelvin Long: Project Icarus founder, liaison British Interplanetary Society
- Claudio Maccone: Mathematics (specialty in transforms & statistics), and project on statistical Fermi-Drake estimations as well as FOCAL mission studies
- Jordan Maclay : Physics, specialty in quantum vacuum and Casimir experiments
- Geoff Marcy: Astronomy, specialty in exoplanet hunt
- Gregory Matloff: Technology, specialty in interstellar probes, and humanities, writing books for public education
- William V. Meyer: Physics, experimental, small scale
- Marc G. Millis: Board, founder and Executive Director, and physics, specialty in space drives
- Frank P. Nagorney: Board, legal issues
- Robert J. Noble: Technology, secondary propulsion
- Richard Obousy: Project Icarus, physics
- Tibor Pacher: Humanities, social networking, Faces from Earth project
- Bob Romanofsky: Technology, specialty in sensors
- Aldo Spadoni: Humanities, technology, art and documentaries
- Alexandre Szames: Humanities, Lead Artist for Tau Zero, history, journalism
- Martin Tajmar: Physics and advanced propulsion
- Andreas Tziolas: Project Icarus, physics
- Edward Zampino: Physics and mathematics
(7) FUND RAISING: The first solicitations to seek philanthropical support went out in 2010 and lessons were learned in that process. Changes are being applied now for future solicitations. I am new to this process and the learning curve is an uphill struggle.
(8) ETC: And lastly, we are responding to all the unexpected things that have come up, like the 100 Year Starship study, the reemergence of NIAC, various conferences, etc. More news on all these things will follow.
Stay with us — we plan to be here for the long haul.