At left is Mae Jemison, snapped from my seat as she spoke to open yesterday morning’s sessions. I couldn’t tweet about her comments because the hotel Wi-Fi wasn’t working in the room. Several people asked me today why I was still using a ‘netbook’ to take notes and send out tweets from the Houston symposium. It’s an easy answer — I need a standard keyboard rather than a virtual one, and despite the beauty of tablets like the iPad, I don’t want to carry a separate keyboard around. Besides, my little 10-inch screen Asus serves me well, gives me all the connectivity I need, and runs Linux much faster than the original Windows that it came with (I blew Windows off the hard disk as soon as I bought it and slipped Ubuntu on effortlessly, continually updating it ever since). At $350, which is what it set me back a few years ago, the netbook is a no-brainer for places where I need to make a lot of notes, and if I leave it in a taxi or drop it, the financial loss is minuscule.
Image: Mae Jemison against a starry background yesterday morning, presenting a rousing call for an interstellar future.
Look for more tweets today just as yesterday. I keep playing around with methodologies, popping up notetaking windows and sometimes jotting things down on a paper pad, but in reality sending out tweets is one of the best ways for me to focus my attention on what a speaker is saying. There is a wide choice in tracks here, which has led to a lot of angst about missing good papers. I finally settled on ‘Time and Distance Solutions,’ but I keep wishing I could clone myself long enough to attend papers in some of the other tracks simultaneously. ‘Becoming an Interstellar Civilization’ is loaded with good presentations, as is ‘Destinations and Habitats,’ and there are other choices as well.
Claudio Maccone and I enjoyed a long, leisurely dinner (salmon and a decent New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc, though not the match of Cloudy Bay), but by the end of it, my back was letting me know it was time to shut down for the day (not good, because I had planned to go to the Icarus Interstellar party). Spending the entire day in a chair, thus missing my usual 3-5 mile walk and getting no other exercise, played havoc with my various disk problems, reminding me I’m not as young as I used to be. Even so, it was a good day yesterday, despite the hotel Wi-Fi balkiness. A lunch with the various teams that made proposals to the DARPA solicitation was appreciated, as each could give an overview of his or her concepts. Great to spend some time there with Gordon Gould, whose ideas on getting the word out about interstellar studies have resonated with me since Orlando.
I’ve also been meeting more and more Centauri Dreams readers, more than in Orlando, I think. What a pleasure to be able to put a face with a name, and I have to thank all who have taken the time to come up and introduce themselves. The papers I’ve heard have been strong, in particular Richard Obousy’s superb overview of breakthrough propulsion concepts, which was delivered with panache and good humor and helped me keep some of the more futuristic ideas in perspective. Kudos as well to Sonny White (JSC), Jeffrey Lee (Crescent School, Toronto) and Pat Galea for crisp, incisive work. Pat collaborated with Greg Matloff on a multi-century probe idea using nanotechnology and beamed sails, not the fastest route but a compelling design in which the nanotech payload is essentially painted onto the sail itself. Fascinating to imagine.
Image: Pat Galea speaking in the ‘Time and Distance Solutions’ track.
Jeremy Straub (University of North Dakota) did a fine job describing the kinds of autonomous systems that any interstellar probe will need, whether crewed by humans or not. I was put in mind of the old Daedalus idea of ‘wardens,’ robotic maintenance and repair systems that keep the craft in operation. Straub noted how useful it would be to mount a near-term mission to test the viability of autonomous systems at ever increasing time lengths. The Voyagers are classy craft, but an interstellar mission might go on not for 35 years but for centuries, and robotic systems have to have the flexibility and ability to learn that will allow them to deal with ever changing situations. Focusing on autonomy and heuristics, this is one precursor mission that could have near-term consequences at advancing the state of the art.