The Growth of Interstellar Organizations

by Paul Gilster on May 10, 2013

The British Interplanetary Society was founded way back in 1933, and included such luminaries as Arthur C. Clarke and Val Cleaver among its early membership. The Institute for Interstellar Studies (I4IS), also based in London, was founded in 2012 and is not, to the best of my knowledge, yet incorporated. Between the two dates and mostly emerging in the first decade of the 21st Century are a number of organizations that in one way or another focus on what I call ‘interstellar studies,’ meaning science and engineering dedicated to interstellar flight.

The trick becomes to keep everything straight. When I started writing my Centauri Dreams book back in 2002, the BIS was a clear model for what a small group of dedicated workers could achieve. It had produced a Moon mission concept as early as the 1930s and went on to create the first fully realized design for an interstellar craft, Project Daedalus. The BIS used the ‘red issues’ of its journal to focus on interstellar work while JBIS was otherwise devoted to a wide span of subjects involving astronautics and rocketry.

What we didn’t have in 2002 was the influx of enthusiasm that new organizations with a specifically interstellar focus have brought. This is where the occasional confusion arises, as I can attest from reading email questions from readers. Consider the sheer number of conferences that are suddenly available. Early in the year we had the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. Fast approaching is Starship Century in San Diego. In August it’s time for the Starship Congress hosted by Icarus Interstellar, while the 100 Year Starship project looks at a conference to be held in September.

I’m also told there is to be a London conference, presumably under the auspices of the Institute for Interstellar Studies, some time in the fall, and the BIS continues to have smaller conclaves at its London headquarters. I’ll cover all of these in these pages, of course, but you should also be aware that we’ve set up a calendar feature on the Tau Zero Foundation’s site that will keep you posted on events you may not otherwise have known about. Right after Starship Century, for example, is the ISDC 2013 Global Collaboration in 21st Century Space event, from May 23-27 at the La Jolla Hyatt Regency in San Diego. The calendar is just up and we’re only now populating it, but the idea will be to track down the major events and make sure they’re visible.

Isv

Image: The ISV Venture Star from James Cameron’s Avatar, one of Hollywood’s best realizations of futuristic starship design. The proliferating number of interstellar organizations may have as one effect more attention by filmmakers to creating plausible designs. Credit: 20th Century Fox.

I’ll likewise call your attention to our listing of the various interstellar organizations, published by order of incorporation, on the Tau Zero site. Regular Centauri Dreams readers will already know about Icarus Interstellar and I4IS, but you may want to scroll through the organizations to learn more about groups like Space GAMBIT, which was incorporated in 2012 and is supported by a $500 K DARPA grant. This one focuses on research that can be accomplished by what the group calls ‘hackerspace’ groups, clusters of enthusiasts working with shared tools in venues ranging from garages to clubs and college campuses.

And while you’ve heard me talk at times about my friend Tibor Pacher and his group Faces from Earth (founded in 2006), you may not be as aware of the Global Starship Alliance (GSA), whose goal is “…to launch a manned starship to the nearest potentially habitable exoplanet.” Beyond this is an agenda for improving life for our descendants: “Pursuing the challenge of interstellar travel will enhance the groundwork for a host of technologies that society needs today to ensure the sustainability of the Earth.”

And I’m almost certain you won’t know about the Interstellar Propulsion Society, which surfaced as a predecessor of the Tau Zero Foundation in the mid-1990s, dissolving with the advent of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics project, only to re-emerge as Tau Zero when BPP funding was withdrawn and its head, Marc Millis, took early retirement to devote himself to interstellar studies. Then too we can’t forget old stalwarts like the Planetary Society, which does occasionally probe into interstellar realms, and certainly the scientists at the SETI Institute.

We’ve just gotten the list up and will add to it as we go, but I wanted you to be aware of it given the confusion I’m hearing from some readers about who is doing what at which conference. Over time, the hope here is that these things will settle down into a more sustainable schedule. But we can also enjoy the flurry of activity that accompanies the rise of new organizations, and hope that this enthusiasm burns bright as we attract a larger gathering to the fascinating study of starflight.

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Marc Millis May 10, 2013 at 10:01

If you notice, the big surge in the number of organizations came after the Oct 2010, announcement of the DARPA-Ames “100 Year Starship” effort, where it looked like a half-million dollars were available for the cause. I was extremely surprised by the emergence of this DARPA interest and am still confused by it since their other (un-competed) selection went to a maker-hacker group. Perhaps DARPA is interested in certain types of activity rather than interstellar flight. Recall, too, that their first half-million was not to conduct research, but rather to establish an organization. If any of you know the reality behind DARPA’s motivations, please inform us.

Prior to the emergence of the DARPA funds, our own ‘market study’ determined that only about $100k per year might be attainable for this topic from private donors, clearly only enough for seed funds for -1- organization. From my NASA experience, it was clear that funding would NOT be available from NASA or the aerospace industry for quite some time. Their own funding is limited, and far less than required to complete their von Braun visions of human spaceflight – though that community still pines for that ideal.

Anything beyond that traditional vision, be it longer-range goals (star flight) or doing business differently (SpaceX, Virgin Galactic, etc.), had to get started on their own funds.

So, here we are with teasings of funding from DARPA, and lots of folks wanting to get, and then apply, those funds to their own visions of how to make starflight real. I have no idea how this will all pan out.

In the meantime, our volunteers at Tau Zero, like Paul Gilster, will do our best to keep you informed of any interstellar developments (research and discovery) and all the activities of all the other organizations, not just ours.

Thank you for your attention, interest, and patience,

Marc Millis

James D. Stilwell May 10, 2013 at 10:47

Awareness is 90% of the game…Don’t ever stop….Just do it….Write more….

Welcome to the Carnival of Space, brought to you this week by Crowlspace and the never-tiring efforts of Fraser Cain and Universe Today. First cab off the rank is musings by Paul Gilster (Centauri Dreams) who ponders the difficulty of interstellar travel as depicted by Robert Frisbee who brings us the 160 million ton antimatter powered starship (see this old “Discover” magazine piece Star Trek for more details.) “Crowlspace” also covers Frisbee’s rather gloomy prognostications here… Antimatter Ain’t What it Used to Be [...]

A. A. Jackson May 10, 2013 at 10:57

We also have Christopher Nolan’s INTERSTELLAR , produced by Spielberg coming out next year , I don’t know what the story is except that Kip Thorne is involved. (‘Metric Engineering’ is part of our interstellar flight community now, one should be mindful that is Throne, one of the biggest general relativity heavy hitters, who invented the field … for Carl Sagan for CONTACT. Traversable wormholes even get their own book Lorentzian Wormholes by Matt Visser, 1996.

Goodness, I remember when the technical aspects of interstellar were confined to the pages of Astronautica Acta and the JBIS. The American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics journals never had many articles , most by Bob Forward, mainly because he could pay the page charges! The AIAA still shys from it, tho I think there is less of that with time. The American Astronautical Society has been more welcoming, but have seen few papers there in recent times.

I frankly don’t know exactly what to make of the sudden jump in interest. Back when I wrote my 3 technical interstellar papers for the JBIS mid to late 70′s , you could count the number hard core engineering physics types as only a few score.
Glad to see the numbers have grown.
(It never went away in prose science fiction, and many writers did their engineering physics well, because many of them were physical scientists.)

I have to say, whew!, have already been to one IF conference in Huntsville , this year, going to San Diego later this month, Dallas in August, Houston in September…. seems Kelvin told me London in October (like to find out if that one is coming off?).
It’s a fun technical subject and glad to see it back, but there need to be some unification. Only so much information can be presented at a conference before it becomes redundant.

Wojciech J May 10, 2013 at 13:49

Needless to say, hopefully the results of search for exoplanets will inspire more people to engage in such activities.
I will have to look closer at what happens in London in fall…Would welcome any updates on the news.

Marc Millis May 10, 2013 at 14:06

Al,
I also have difficulty with there being too many, and competing, events. Even if I had travel funds, I would only want to attend ‘the best’ event – and not sure which one that would be. Also, it takes me a while to generate new content to present (genuinely new content). Certainly not 4 papers a year… maybe more like 1/yr if that much… depending on the difficulty of the NEWness of the content. To attend conferences and to see minor variations of the same old ideas again is not useful to me, so I do not want to inflict that on my audiences.

How do the rest of you feel about all these groups and conferences practically right on top of each other? How do you pick which event to attend? How many can you afford to attend on a regular basis?

Space Realist May 10, 2013 at 14:22

This is interesting, but what do you say to people who point out the apparent incongruity of a surge in interest in interstellar flight at a time when humans haven’t been past LEO in over four decades? Perhaps we should learn to crawl before we can walk? Perhaps this talent should be devoted to solving more practical problems like getting humans into deep space, establishing offworld colonies, better interplanetary propulsion systems, etc.? And why the denigration of “von Braun visions” when that’s still a lofty and inspiring goal, far beyond our current rather meager capabilities?

I enjoy the ideas being discussed here, but I have to question the wisdom of worrying about things that are centuries down the road when there are so many more pressing problems to be solved right now. At least JBIS (that’s Interplanetary, not Interstellar!) and people like Clarke were thinking about attainable goals like moon missions and interplanetary flight. If you’re not careful, you may start to look like a purely academic or science fictional community.

ljk May 10, 2013 at 14:30

My semieducated guess as to ultimate motives is that DARPA wanted to see what technologies could come from those who are experts in interstellar spacecraft studies and related fields. One will need advancements in computing, propulsion, and metallurgy, just to name a few. It is a rich source of potential knowledge and technology.

Half a million dollars just to get things started is pocket change to the DoD, a small investment for a potentially huge return. And for good or bad, many of the folks in these fields will be so excited that the government is finally taking them seriously that many of them will do most of the work and practically hand away their ideas and designs just to be a part of this effort. Plus letting the general public think the Pentagon is building the Starship Enterprise makes them look innovative and hip.

The US military did something similar almost two decades ago with the Clementine space probe that orbited the Moon and was destined to explore the planetoid 1620 Geographos until technical problems with one of its thrusters ended that part of the mission prematurely. The technology aboard Clementine that examined Earth’s only natural satellite in detail was being tested for what has long been colloquially known as the “Star Wars” program, when Reagan and friends tried to defend the USA against the USSR from nuclear attack with sophisticated space weapons.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clementine_(spacecraft)

In summation, while there are likely a number of reasons for the 100 Year Starship plan, the DoD would be foolish not to take advantage of any new technologies that come from researching real interstellar vessels for their own military purposes by taking this – what is for them – a rather novel and unorthodox approach.

On the plus side for those folks who want to explore the galaxy for its own sake, there will be equivalent trickle-down benefits if not more. Just think of all the good that came out of the development of the V-2 rocket, originally a military weapon of a totalitarian regime, as an example. Certainly in this post-Cold War era, we need to get our meaningful help and funds from somewhere that has both the cash and the experience with hi-tech and space utilization.

ljk May 10, 2013 at 14:48

For those wondering where James D. Stillwell go his post from:

http://crowlspace.com/?p=144

Marc Millis May 10, 2013 at 17:31

Dear Space Realist,

Others, like you, consider that it is not time to pursue starflight until after we have colonies on the Moon and Mars; which are reasonable learning steps. Lessons from history, however, suggest that it is best to pursue both the next-obvious steps AND the revolutionary advances that could circumvent those near-term actions [Foster 1986, et al]. By evoking the goal of starflight, we are forced to look beyond extrapolations of existing methods, to seek the breakthroughs that could change everything, the breakthroughs that those near-term mindsets can’t explore.

Regarding the von Braun visions… It’s not that those are ‘bad’ visions, it is that they are incomplete. The added abilities of robotic probes (perhaps even to build the habitats in advance of humanity) and the commercial approaches to spaceflight (to eventually self-fund further explorations) are approaches that were not available to von Braun when he and his colleagues formulated their visions. Equally, the expectation for World War levels of resources has given way to more incremental or self-sustaining resources. So, if he and his colleagues were here today with those new abilities and constraints, what new plans would they envision? I suspect it would be different.

Here, at Tau Zero and with our colleagues, we are hedging the bets by adding far-future thinking to the pool of near-term activities. We are considering approaches that would be impractical to the near-term folks, but which might surpass those methods sooner than expected. Also, we are not asking for grand scale funding, but rather just enough to chip away at the remaining key questions in a systematic manner – Ad astra incrementis.

To neglect the more visionary pursuits would be a disservice to humanity. It’s not one or the other, but both the near and far term thinking. Regarding the survival of humanity, do we really want to procrastinate until the near term folks are done?

kelvin F Long May 10, 2013 at 18:07

hi guys,
i have several comments for this post but i m currently away from home so i will write again in two days. Al the I4IS Lod
on meeting is the 29th May at BIS.
kelvin F Long

James D. Stilwell May 10, 2013 at 22:13

No one here has begun to answer the Larry Krauss book trashing the physics of Star Trek…Nor Avatar’s ‘unobtainium’…DARPA wants a feather in its cap…that’s how the art of political theater works….on the other hand, Albert Einstein didn’t mind sitting in the patent office for seven years….then he sprang EMC2 on us…
I should remind you that von Braun got his rocket money from Hitler…
Love and respect you all…

Tom May 10, 2013 at 22:48

This is the smartest forum on the net. There is a consistent legacy of doing bigger & better things as futurity approaches. Interstellar flight is one of the most ambitious pursuits for post-modern humans.
Frankly, we are closer to it than to our anscestors who invented fire usage.
Some humans believe we will exhaust our civilization before the first attempt to another solar system .
Why do some thechnologies evolve quickly, while others stay on the drawing board stage? The Romans, Greeks & Chinese understood steam, but we didn’t have steam engines until Watt & Fulton? Electric and magnetic phenomenon have been observed for as just as long, but all advanced practical usage occured in the beginning of the 1800s.
Starflight could be this kind of qualitative leap. We ‘intuit’ what would be the capabilities, but the intergration and system principles could be totally outside our imagination, much less our labor. Being sober isn’t being a pessimist… Bob Forward was right..’materials, mandate & money is how you make things happen.’

Chris Radcliff May 10, 2013 at 23:56

I have to admit I’m a little disheartened by the announcement of so many overlapping interstellar-focused conferences, coming from the same names that so impressively came together for the first DARPA conference.

From an outsider’s perspective, it looks like infighting between factions. I had planned to attend 100YSS this year, but now I’ll probably sit all of them out and wait to read the recaps.

Peter May 11, 2013 at 4:08

I don’t see how Mars or the Moon are stepping stones to the stars. Though it may not be glamorous I think the most important stepping stone is lowering the cost to LEO. That will come, but it’s not even a necessary stepping stone yet, since we are still far from being able to do the advanced research and engineering into interstellar propulsion that would be most advantageously done in space (rather than on earth). So the next step is really just raising money for research here on earth.

The amount of organizations isn’t surprising given the loftiness of the subject matter; let’s hope the less credible ones will be weeded out in time and those remaining increase their focus.

Marc commented earlier on something like the metathinking phenomenon of these times, of which information technology is undoubtedly partly to blame, where people easily drown in information, leading to indecision, confusion, procrastination, and then things like the shuttle get grounded and a flurry of organizations spring up with fantastic aspirations but no one willing to roll up their sleeves and do anything substantial. This makes me wonder if we will have to wait for government to eventually step in again.

David Cummings May 11, 2013 at 11:14

Growing interest in the idea of interstellar flight is being fueled by the accelerating knowledge regarding interstellar planets.

Here’s an example from ScienceDaily, yesterday:

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/05/130510192835.htm

william f collins May 11, 2013 at 11:26

Whenever the federal government puts out :”new” money for a project – no matter what the issue – a flock of folks are drawn to the possibility of funding for their dream(s) , in this case interstellar space travel. Of course, there are still lots of people interested interplanetary space travel – but we now know that the likelihood of intelligent ET’s in are nil and the likely abodes of life – Europa, Titan, Mars, – are pretty inhospitable to earthlike life. So Interstellar exploration does offer the hope for the discovery of complex life – possibly life with technology. that possibility is a strong impetus
DARPA may hope for some unexpected breakthroughs to emerge for all of this activity. So why not throw some money out there. There are strong elements in our country who want to ensure that the USA continues as a leader in Space Exploration/Exploitation for sometime to com

Paul Titze May 11, 2013 at 12:18

It is too early to be designing starships in 2013 and although it is good people are thinking about starflight, real progress would be made in research into Breakthrough Propulsion Physics. Let’s worry about how to get starships 150Km above the ground before worrying about how to send them 150ly away. Has anyone worked out a replacement for chemical rockets? This is the main stumbling block to starflight. We need to be able to get large amounts of hardware out of Earth’s gravity well efficiently. Till that happens we’ll be restricted to small scale space exploration in our neighborhood.

Cheers, Paul.

David May 11, 2013 at 14:11

Krauss Don’t get me going on that guy.

I am really interested in Marcs comment on the aerospace contractors.
I would think they would like anything they could get a contract for . Even proof of concept stuff like sails. Or heck id think they would love a revived Project Orion A chance to build nukes and spaceships…….

I was wondering however if they have been shocked into quiescence but the whole Koch/teabagger attack on well everything government?
I must express how stunned I was to see the CEO of Honeywell on one of those brain dead Sunday shows carping about government and taxes..
Do these guys even know where their revenues come from?

As to DARPA who knows maybe this is a countereaction to break out of the teabag prison

Antonio May 11, 2013 at 15:14

Vi invito a leggere questo interessante articolo.
Vi sono alcune considerazioni, che certamente possono essere condivise, dai lettori di questo “blog”.
http://www.smh.com.au/technology/technology-news/will-we-ever-boldly-go-where-no-man-has-gone-20130511-2jemy.html

Un saluto a voi tutti, da Antonio

Via Google Translate:

I invite you to read this interesting article.
There are some considerations, which certainly can be shared, by the readers of this blog.

James May 11, 2013 at 15:39

Marc,

I’ve been seeing the promos of you on the History Channel next week discussing the future of FTL travel. I hope this only galvanizes more people into the field.

Randy Chung May 12, 2013 at 0:58

I stumbled upon the interstellar happenings last summer (2012). I had thought up a new way to generate super high voltages, and was looking for applications (x-ray generator? neutron generator? spacecraft shielding?). I looked into ion engines, but the voltages used in ion engines are a few thousand volts, so my super high voltage generator didn’t really fit for ion engines, either. However, I kept brainstorming and came up with a new ion engine design that can make use of a megavolt or gigavolt generator. It was August 2012 when I found out about Kelvin Long’s book on Deep Space Propulsion and then googled more about him.
To make a long story short, I have pledged that a significant percentage of any licensing fees would go I4IS.org. If were rich, I’d give money, but I’m not rich, so I give ideas that I hope will have some market value.

william f collins May 12, 2013 at 7:02

Antonio,
Interesting article. Especially the idea of very limited colonization within the solar system. As stated, it is very challenging to predict with absolute certainty which the direction technological progress will go. Political & economic considerations abound. I am the citizen of a country in vast millions of folk own cellphones, and computers but lacks high speed rail passenger transport and nixed supersonic passenger jets.

Wojciech J May 12, 2013 at 11:26

Antonio-the article is interesting but has some serious problems:
-a it openly says that no Western government will engage in one way colonization, well-not all space faring countries are western, and more are on the way. An ideologically or religiously motivated country could pursue such plan
-it says that no known technology can reach near stars, that is well known to be untrue
-and finally it says that none of our probes can reach near planets, which is correct, but we don’t need probes to find life on other planets, telescopes will do.

Pointless Geometry May 12, 2013 at 11:38

Goods questions Marc, I’m glad you asked them. My answers are based on the three space themed conferences I’ve attended in the last three years in the U.S..

“How do the rest of you feel about all these groups and conferences practically right on top of each other?”

Since I have to travel from Australia, it means I have more options of when to fly and what else I may be able to do on my visit. Having said that, I would have preferred to see the conferences spaced out (no pun intended) a little more throughout the year.

“How do you pick which event to attend?”

a) Personal interest. It has to be worth my while to travel from the other side of the world. Hopefully something groundbreaking or at least inspiring. Serious speakers with cred. I’m not a science fiction fan, so I want it realistic.
b) Budget. Can I afford it?
c) A good website. That may seem a little superficial, but that’s all I’ve got to go on when I make my booking, so the more professional it is, the more confident I am you’ll deliver the goods.

“How many can you afford to attend on a regular basis?”

I can’t afford to attend any on a regular basis. A (paid? sponsored?) live webcast from a conference would not only be a cheaper option for me, it would reach more people globally and may even turn a profit if managed properly.

Tom, I must agree with you that “This is the smartest forum on the net.”

Peter, the Moon and Mars could prove useful as quarantine stations for return missions from the stars. No so much as ‘stepping stones’ as ‘stepping back stones.’

Sedjak May 12, 2013 at 12:22

IBM’s Watson is already at the level of “mastering” fields like Oncology in a matter of months. If some organization purchased the technology, a unit, or even bought access to the beast, they might be able to make it “master” other fields like physics, chemistry, nanotech, materials science, rocketry, cosmology and anything else remotely related to interstellar travel. For decades, other AI systems have been created that build ontologic knowledge banks and discover new principles, for example, by using genetic algorithms. Were Watson or its successors to be incorporated into such endeavors and programmed to discover new materials and propulsion methods, then we might be able to accelerate the leap to the stars. There is so much new knowledge coming out at an ever-increasing pace that this might be the most prudent and efficient way that any breakthrough cross-discipline discoveries are going to happen.

Kelvin F. Long May 12, 2013 at 23:53

Dear all,
Thank you for this post, I have some comments.

Firstly, the Institute for Interstellar Studies symposium is being held at the BIS on May 29th, it is a one day event. Details on the BIS web site.

Second, the influx of several interstellar organisations should be welcomed, not looked upon with concern. It is the same way that the history of space exploration shows we got started in the 1920s, 30s and 40s. Ultimately, it reflects the large scale enthusiasm for our subject and at some point all of the organisations will settle down to some form of equilibrium which one hopes is mutually co-operative and beneficial. That said, a little competition wouldn’t hurt.

I welcome the calendar that the Tau Zero Foundation has put together and I consider this a positive contribution to our community. I also welcome TZF putting together a list of such organisations. This is a good addition to the excellent service provided by the Paul Gilster Centauri Dreams blog.

Regarding DARPA and 100YSS. I think its important that we separate the DARPA owned 100YSS from the later winning team who owned 100YSS. They are clearly two different entities, including in law, management, leadership, teams, motivation, aspirations and scope. It is my opinion that what DARPA did was bold and helpful to our little subject. No matter what the winning organisation (The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence) does (or does not, judge for yourself) do with the award, we should appreciate the small injection of cash and publicity that DARPA attempted to put into the starship R&D. I think that the scope of the original 100YSS initiative was correct and if anything they taught us not to just focus on the physics and engineering, but instead to appreciate that the problem is also political, economic, philosophical, biological….et cetera. In addition, the first 100YSS conference which I attended in Orlando, Florida, was the best interstellar conference I have ever attended. {FYI: If you want to see another great conference, comes to Dallas, Texas in August for the Icarus Interstellar Starship Congress http://www.icarusinterstellar.org/congress-announcement/ ).
What doesn’t make sense about the DARPA motivations for 100YSS is the defence angle, because its all done in the public eye. What benefits America can gleam from any technology spin-offs so too can any country in the world – so where is the advantage? Unless you constrain it through ITAR. Personally, I think it’s more about kick starting the next technology revolution as a punt, something which DARPA does regularly, which brings countless benefits not just to America but also to the world at large, within reason.

Regarding the TZF determined $100k per year total available income from private donors for interstellar. I don’t agree with that market research conclusion. In addition, as a community, we cannot just rely on hand outs but we must take it upon ourselves to demonstrate some entrepreneurial spirit. We cannot get to the stars on a begging bowl. If we have failed to attract appropriate funding, it is because we have not make the case. We need to do better to convince the investors on the aspirational goals but also on the business case. In short – our community should be better organised.

Regards only so much being progressed before material becomes redundant. There are dozens of methods for getting to the stars, and perturbations of them all. In addition, there are hundreds of systems and sub-systems technologies to design, thousands of issues to discuss, technology demonstrators to be tested and built. No, I don’t agree that we should limit ourselves to a maximum number of conferences. If it is the opinion of some that material being presented at conferences is not of sufficient quality, then that is a different matter. This is why we require an organised research program of work. The research needs to be focussed and managed…but at the same time lets not forget the basic fun of just meeting up and discussing starships. But I don’t agree with this push back on too many competing events, what we are seeing represents part-emergence and part-competition – let it play out. Organisations need to express themselves and this helps them to find their own character and function. That said, I agree that we must avoid minor variations on the same age old ideas, within reason and provided the original studies were done correctly. An example is the Icarus Interstellar Project Longshot, which is revising the design to correct the many mistakes in it – this would be a worthwhile contribution to the literature I feel.

Space Realist, I refer you to Clarke’s second law. Interstellar also provides an important stretch goal for current and near-term technologies and mission capabilities. Also don’t forget the importance of keeping the vision alive as a means for positive inspiration. I personally do not find much of the current space exploration activities inspiring. SpaceX and Reaction Engines Ltd is my two hopes for the future. I completely agree with Millis that we should be pursuing the next breakthroughs, including next steps and revolutionary breakthroughs.

Chris Radcliff, don’t lose heart. Instead, be joyous – you are living through exciting times.

David Cummings, I agree exoplanet discoveries are one of the factors, but it is only one. There are many of us working 24/7 to emerge the necessary interstellar industry we need, for example. There are other factors I won’t get into, such as people looking for an alternative to the disappointing current manned space exploration initiatives and escapism from world recession.

Paul Titze, I completely disagree with you that it is too early to be designing starships in 2013. It is only through the act of trying to design things, that we achieve a reliable assessment of the real requirements for interstellar flight, be it through physics, engineering, economics or other means. Everything else is very large guesses. There are also 2nd, 3rd, 4th….order effects by designing starships through education, capability, inspiration……In addition, why should this community be focussing on getting vessels 150 km above the ground when there are many multi-million dollar companies looking at this? We can’t compete with that and so as a community we are focussing on an area where both government, industry and academia largely dare not go. When they do eventually show interest in it, they will find at least theoretically (and hopefully experimentally) the fields have been ploughed by us giving them a good jumping off point. We are readying the fields in advance of that.

I would like to end this post by stating how proud I am personally of this community and those of us trying to lead organisations that can make star travel a reality some day. This especially includes Tau Zero Foundation and Icarus Interstellar and the team at the Institute for Interstellar Studies. But most certainly, greater co-operation and co-ordination of efforts is needed if we are to achieve our shared ambitions.

…and yes I agree this is an excellent blog page thanks to the superb efforts of Paul Gilster.

Best wishes
Kelvin F.Long

Andreas Tziolas May 14, 2013 at 0:50

Why is all this happening?

Because we’re sick and tired of waiting for someone else to do it!

ITS AN INTERSTELLAR REVOLUTION, BABY!

ljk May 14, 2013 at 11:00

Plans for lunar and Mars colonies have been going nowhere for decades, long before any but a literal handful of professional space folks took interstellar travel seriously. So saying that focusing on sending a probe to Alpha Centauri could derail our efforts at colonizing the Sol system – which is supposed to be the space stepping stone to the stars – is starting to sound a lot like those who say we need to fix all our problems on Earth first before going into space. The same people who likely spend most of their money on sports, music, films, vacations, etc., while giving token pennies at best to various causes and virtually nothing for space and science in general.

They used to say we would need a space station to reach the Moon. Well, Apollo went there multiple times without a single station in sight. Nothing has been launched to any world in the Sol system since we have had stations in Earth orbit. Of course most of our space stations have been experimental and efforts to turn the ISS into a real testing ground for manned missions to Mars have so far been turned down.

I know it will be said that the astronauts up there on the ISS are learning how to live and work in space, but keep in mind two things: Most of them will be retired or dead by the time an actual Mars mission happens, and none of them have ever been more than a few hundred miles from Earth, where a safe return in case of an emergency is a short trip away. What about when something goes wrong and our planet is a pale blue dot in the sky months from getting back to at best?

Interstellar probes may indeed be built in space, most likely Earth orbit, but we won’t need anything like the helium-3 mining factory in the atmosphere of Jupiter that was proposed for Daedalus in the late 1970s. Can you imagine the infrastructure that would take, to say nothing of trying to get the politicians with the purse strings to approve of such an endeavor. We might as well have added another few centuries onto that timetable. I considered this to be a bigger stumbling block on our road to the stars than creating a proper AI for the probe or fusion propulsion itself.

Not saying I don’t want us colonizing the Sol system, just that if we want to make Alpha Centauri in our grandchildren’s lifetimes, I do not see a colony on Mars playing a real role in this goal. Both can be done if we ever get our priorities straight – or more likely, make some rich businesses realize how much richer they could get by owning and mining cosmic real estate.

william collins May 15, 2013 at 22:27

The funding issues are real ones! Mostly I suspect that there will continue to be many competing agendas facing humanity. Unless some compelling discovery of exoplanetary life forms to fore, I believe that wealth produced through the exploitation of interplanetary resources will fund the initial interstellar voyages. Space advocates will compete with other human efforts albeit successfully. I once saw a prominent aquanaut/oceanographer who argued that space travel was a waste of time -that took away funds from humanity’s real future – in Earth’s oceans (!).

ljk May 16, 2013 at 10:37

william collins said on May 15, 2013 at 22:27:

“I once saw a prominent aquanaut/oceanographer who argued that space travel was a waste of time -that took away funds from humanity’s real future – in Earth’s oceans (!).”

Ah yes, the glorious undersea cities that were also promised in my youth along with the lunar and Mars colonies. Still waiting on all of them nearly half a century later.

http://paleo-future.blogspot.com/2007/04/undersea-cities-1954.html

http://paleo-future.blogspot.com/2007/04/mans-future-beneath-sea-1968.html

william f collins May 18, 2013 at 20:32

ljk
Apparently, NOAA has funded an Undersea Lab located off the Florida coast on the continental shelf. One of the big debates among the oceanographers/aquanauts is over human exploration vs robotic exploration. The other involves communication with two of earth’s other intelligent life forms – the dolphin or maybe the octopus.

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