Building a Foundation for Practical Starflight

by Paul Gilster on February 3, 2006

Long-time Centauri Dreams readers know that I’ve written repeatedly about a non-profit foundation to support research into interstellar flight. The groundwork for this foundation, as you will see below, dates back over a decade. It is now time to get busy with practicalities, the first of which is the choice of a name.

In 1993, a father and son team, Ed and Jon Hujsak, tracked down the leading researchers on advanced space propulsion and together they founded the “Interstellar Propulsion Society.” Some of its 15 advisors included Robert Forward, Greg Matloff, Tony Martin, Geoff Landis, Bob Zubrin, Dana Andrews, and Marc Millis. With the Internet and digital libraries now available to facilitate collaboration, this grass-roots society aimed to “accelerate scientific and engineering advancement in space propulsion, leading to manned missions to other star system at fractional light speeds, relativistic velocities and beyond.”

But the Interstellar Propulsion Society was short-lived. Right after its first newsletter appeared in July of 1995, NASA began sponsoring its own interstellar work, including the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, led by Marc Millis (NASA GRC); the Advanced Space Transportation Research Program, led by John Cole (NASA MSFC); and studies that led to numerous nearer-term concepts such as the 2000 Interstellar Precursor Mission, proposed by R. A. Wewaldt and P. C. Liewer (Caltech and NASA JPL).

Around 2000, when the Advanced Space Transportation Program (ASTP) implemented more disciplined terminology, the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics (BPP) Program became the BPP Project (in NASA terminology, Projects are subsets of Programs and BPP was a subset of the ASTP).

It seemed that the need for the grass-roots society had been supplanted with funded government research. The society’s founders and advisors let their organization fade away.

About 7 years later, however, these visionary NASA activities also ended. Quoting Michael Braukus, a public affairs officer from NASA Headquarters (July 11, 2003): “The Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project has been discontinued consistent with the reformulation of the SLI [Space Launch Initiative] and a reassessment of the Integrated Space Transportation (ISTP) budget priorities.” A slightly different explanation comes from the 2003 Federal budget (p.325): “Finally, the Congress earmarked funds for a low priority propulsion lab by cutting the very research the lab is meant to support.”

Just prior to the NASA cuts, Marc Millis (whose first published work on these topics appeared in 1990) began to shift the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics work to a consortium of government, industry and academia. From managing what is arguably the most visionary NASA project, Millis learned that such edgy research needs more rounded participation [NASA NASA/TM–2004-213406]. Although the funding cuts halted this transformation, the idea that such visionary research should resume and include facets beyond what the government could address was clear. Millis’s brief experiences with Walter De Brouwer’s Starlab in 2001 also gave him new insights into entrepreneurial adventures.

In 2003 and with NASA’s support, Millis returned to school to pursue a Masters in Physics Entrepreneurship at Case Western Reserve University. As a school project, Millis wrote a business plan for an “Interstellar Flight Foundation” that one of his management consultants took seriously enough to incorporate in 2004, before Millis finished securing NASA’s permission to work this Foundation on his own time, outside of NASA. But as implementation details progressed, the consultant and Millis’s team differed on how things should be run. The consultant has gone on to pursue his own version of an “Interstellar Flight Foundation,” while Millis and his team continue setting up their original Foundation.

With the help of Paul Gilster (who provides our temporary Internet outlet), we are now seeking a little help from YOU to get us officially started. WE NEED A NEW NAME. Although we’ve settled on an acceptable subtitle, specifically, “Ad Astra Incrementis” (which literally means: “to the stars in steps, where each is larger than before”), renaming the Foundation has been a struggle. “Interstellar Flight Foundation” was quite appropriate, but now we must pick something sufficiently different to avoid confusion with the offshoot version, yet still relevant.

Many other fitting names have already been taken, making choices narrow. Some of the names that we’ve been toying with include:

  • Interstellar Propulsion Foundation
  • Deep Future Foundation
  • Centauri Foundation
  • Blue-Shift Foundation (double meaning; Doppler and ‘shifting to a new pale blue dot’)
  • SEARCH Foundation (Science, Engineering, & Astronautical Research for a Cosmic Humanity)
  • Stardrive Foundation
  • Tau Zero Foundation (inspired by the Poul Anderson novel of the same name)
  • Long Result Foundation (plays off a line from Tennyson, referring to ‘the long result of time’)
  • Practical Starflight Foundation
  • We hope you will give us your feedback on which names you like and which you don’t (and feel free to propose still others). To do so, you may post a comment here on Centauri Dreams (free registration required), or if you prefer, contact Paul Gilster directly by e-mail. Choosing the best name is significant — names count! — and it marks what we hope will be the kickoff for getting this foundation into action later in 2006.

    Eric James February 3, 2006 at 23:40

    Although I like “Stardrive Foundation,” I have seen the term “Stardrive” in current use eleswhere (in an online forum).

    The “Interstellar Propulsion Foundation” isn’t bad.

    “Tau Zero” was a story about a Bussard ramship. I believe Bussard ramships have been discredited due to the drag always exceeding the thrust (what would THAT say about the IFF?)

    How about “Interstellar Spacedrive Technologies Foundation?” Or…

    “Foundation for the Advancement of Spaceflight Technology” (“FAST”)?

    How about something fun like “The United Federation of Propulsion” (a play on the Star Trek “United Federation of Planets”) We can call it, “The Federation.” There can be “Federation Headquarters,” “Federation policies,” “Federation technology” and all sorts of fun Star Trek “Federation” tie-ins.

    To bad “To Infinity and Beyond!” is taken.

    Administrator February 4, 2006 at 7:30

    You’re right about Tau Zero being connected with the Poul Anderson novel, which was indeed about a runaway Bussard ramjet. But I suppose there’s still a case for it despite the association: as you move closer and closer to the speed of light, the value of tau gets closer to zero, so a name like Tau Zero Foundation could imply a foundation dedicated to approaching light speed or something like that. Still, I like some of the other ideas better, especially that FAST acronym you mention for Foundation for the Advancement of Spaceflight Technology. Good stuff!

    jordanglassman February 4, 2006 at 13:18

    As long as science fiction continues to provide a framework for the development of technologies that exist only on its own pages, why not keep it simple?

    The Foundation.

    In many ways, this suggestion is the most appropriate, but unfortunately it’s also the most ridiculous sounding, especially to the uninitiated. Sad, because the words express a great deal to me independent of their science fiction connotation. If a group such as this can be successfully mobilized and employed, then calling it a *the* Foundation is the most precise descriptor I can think of; regardless of what the future here on planet Earth holds for us, the offworld future rests entirely on the eventual efficacy of interstellar travel.

    Administrator February 4, 2006 at 13:31

    I absolutely love the Asimov connection, which gives The Foundation a lot of weight. My one concern would be that I think it’s already taken, though I’d have to check. It was amazing to see how many of the ideas we kicked around over the last few months had already been assigned to other groups, even though many were not in active use. But yes, The Foundation has a very satisfactory sound to it.

    Dan February 4, 2006 at 13:35

    I like the Foundation for Practical Starflight. It has a very specific focus, and tells the world exactly what it is you do. The more grand and sweeping you make your title, the more diffuse and inpenetrable the nature of the organization can become. I also think it has an edge because the phrase “practical starflight” sparks the imagination.

    The Foundation for the Advancement of Spaceflight Technology is a close second, and the Interstellar Propulsion Foundation is third. (You could also be an Institute, a Society, or an Initiative, depending on how you envision your organization functioning.)

    One other thing. A focus on propulsion tends to obscure remote but interesting possibilities like wormhole-based travel. If your goal is to travel to other stars, why not try a name like the Foundation for Interstellar Transit? Just a thought.

    Administrator February 4, 2006 at 13:41

    We’re getting some great material here. Foundation for Practical Starflight is one we didn’t come up with, and I like its direct, specific focus. I’ll also mention to readers that a number of e-mails have been arriving with name possibilities. We’ll gather all of these for discussion as we try to work out the best solution. I plan to leave the Foundation message up as the lead entry on Centauri Dreams for several more days (normally, new posts come six days a week); the more ideas we get the better!

    Joseph February 4, 2006 at 14:10

    All good choices though I must admit I’m partial to Tau Zero.

    CloakedGreen February 4, 2006 at 21:45

    I know that you are looking for an english name. Why not stick with Latin. Ex Astris Scientia. It means From the stars knowledge. You can refer to the organisation has EAS.

    If you don’t like it. Why not just call it. Centauri Propulsion.

    Eric James February 5, 2006 at 4:57

    The Foundation for the Advancement of Spaceflight Technology” (”FAST”) keeps growing on me. Casually we can also call it “The Foundation,” so it works with the Asimov thing too.

    Administrator February 5, 2006 at 7:35

    Re Ex Astris Scientia, ‘from the stars, knowledge,’ as suggested above: this was the motto of the Apollo 13 mission, as powerful an example of working through difficulties as can be imagined. And a friend tells me it became the motto for Starfleet Academy in Star Trek.

    anthropoidean February 5, 2006 at 7:49

    Hi, just signed to post a word I like: suprasolar. ‘The Suprasolar Foundation’ sounds good to me. Moreover suprasolar.org is available.

    btw, this place is awesome :-)
    Greetings to all

    vieirapimentel February 5, 2006 at 20:47

    My opinion: Stardrive Foundation, afterall the goal is to atchieve (drive) physical energy that leads to Star exploration. ‘Drive’ also as a steer the progress to the same idea.
    I am a rookie on space science and I have an handicap because I’m portuguese and my english its a barrier to understand some info, however, i would like to know what’s next? This a non governamental foundation to support research into interstellar flight, right? So, all of us can help build it? If so, I think that the next step is to seperate, specify, diferent areas. Interstellar Propulsion its a major matter, but we can’t forget other subjects like structual materials (the hardware), shielding (radiation), living on a ship (gravity and self sustained life), etc…
    To resume my idea: a way to provide an organized brainstorming to boost each matter.

    CloakedGreen February 6, 2006 at 2:20

    Re Ex Astris Scientia, ‘from the stars, knowledge,’ as suggested above: this was the motto of the Apollo 13 mission, as powerful an example of working through difficulties as can be imagined. And a friend tells me it became the motto for Starfleet Academy in Star Trek.

    I got it from Star Trek. Seeing their aim is to get to another star to gain more knowledge. The title is fitting but latin.

    Bob Shaw February 6, 2006 at 8:33

    The Centauri Foundation is initially the most attractive of those quoted, though potentially to be confused with the model rocketry company of a similar name (and, speaking of SF connections, one would hope that nobody would name a spacedrive ‘The Centauri Device’!).

    I’d shy away from names with ‘propulsion’ etc in them, as that seems always to mean rockets or spacedrives first and foremost, and some of the wilder by-ways of physics may yet provide us with an alternative.

    Here are some other ideas:

    The Interstellar Society – if it’s good enough for the Planetary Society, then…
    The Voyager Foundation – named after some of our first star-bound craft
    The Pioneer Foundation – as above
    The Mechta Foundation – named for that first ‘dream’ flight to image the Moon

    Administrator February 6, 2006 at 8:58

    One theme that is usefully emerging here is that ‘propulsion’ in the name may be too limiting — both because it implies more conventional physics and also because it ignores the complete range of technologies that will be needed for interstellar flight. It’s a point well taken and one that hadn’t occurred to me before. Bob Shaw’s reference (above) is to the M. John Harrison novel The Centauri Device (1975), a melancholy and sometimes fascinating novel in which the ‘device’ is anything but a breakthrough stardrive that opens up the galaxy.

    Will February 7, 2006 at 10:23

    This might be tremendously obscure, but what about something like the “Toliman Group”? Toliman is the obscure Hebrew name for Alpha Centauri, which still rattles around in encyclopedias and star atlases. It adds an air of mystery to the foundation. Toliman also apparently derives from a words meaning “vine-shoot” — perhaps an appropriate symbol for a mission dedicated to the first quickening of a galactic civilization. The Biblical associations also would capture the proper note for so epic an idea — any trip to our nearest interstellar neighbours would be simultaneously a Genesis and an Exodus.

    ljk February 7, 2006 at 10:25

    I like the Foundation for Practical Starflight. That would be my main choice.

    Here are some others, some serious, some not so, but all the result of a free flow of thought in the hopes of striking something creative.

    The Andromeda Train – if we can get past the connotations of an alien
    microorganism with the potential to wipe out all Earth life, I am kinda
    partial to this one.

    The Zephram Cochrane Foundation

    Stars R Us

    The Outtherethataway Foundation

    Engage!

    ToBoldyGo – a somewhat more serious offering

    The Stars or Bust – another more serious offering

    Do You Know the Way to Tau Ceti

    I Left My Heart on Alpha Centauri

    One Small Step

    Beyond the Infinite – from 2001

    Let me know if any of these grab you, too, but the first one I
    mentioned (FPS) is what I would go with.

    timbelcher February 21, 2006 at 10:53

    How about “The Starflight Foundation”

    Administrator February 21, 2006 at 13:32

    It’s a solid name, but I believe we found that The Starflight Foundation had already been taken. That was the problem with a lot of good names — someone had already claimed them. But the good news is that the foundation is close to a final decision on the name, which should be announced shortly.

    Malcolm B. McNeill December 27, 2006 at 22:27

    About the only system that can get us interstellar at appreciable fractions of light speed is one incorporating light sails and ion engines powered by collimated photon beams received by the interstellar vehicle’s power receiver’s photovoltaic panels. Such a system is presented in: http://www.redcolony.com/wiki/index.php?title=Portal:Gourdheadian_Approach which contains its own justification.
    I suggest Photovoltaic Propulsion

    Roger June 8, 2007 at 13:29

    I am a bit late and out of time with my comments but I just only now stumbled upon this site: very interesting site.

    Concerning the names, those implying flight to stars do not really entice me from what I know of stars: we have one right here in our solar system and 93,000,000 miles is about as close as I will like to get to it.

    Traversing interstellar space, however, does stir up my curiosity if only because I see this as a sort of ultimate challenge to science and one that is achievable.

    The acronym SEARCH is the type of name that appeals to me only that at a glance (ie without knowing the meaning of the acronym) one cannot tell what the SEARCH is for.

    If a meaningful use of the word SPACE as an acronym could be developed I think this will be a suitable name for this site: maybe Speed, Propulsion And ‘Carbonless’ Energy.

    So SPACE Foundation will be my suggestion of a name.

    Roger.

    Administrator June 8, 2007 at 13:41

    Roger, thanks indeed for your thoughts re the foundation name. We did ultimately settle on Tau Zero Foundation, about which more here:

    http://www.centauri-dreams.org/?page_id=475

    engin taner July 18, 2007 at 19:05

    ”Foundation for the Advancement of Spaceflight Technology” is incredibly
    good (shortly FAST) named by Eric james. or

    FAIST (Foundation for the Advancement of Interstellar Spaceflight) is even
    better…

    Tyler Durden September 27, 2007 at 18:36

    FTL Travel Foundation

    FTL Propulsion Initiative

    Superluminal Flight Foundation

    OpenFTL Project

    Final Frontier Foundation

    Starfaring Society Foundation

    Administrator September 27, 2007 at 20:27

    Thank you, Tyler, but the name Tau Zero Foundation was chosen some time ago. I appreciate your sending these names, though.

    CloakedGreen September 14, 2008 at 22:32

    Ah this brings memories back. I was just a kid who wasn’t sure if being a doctor was a good choice to make. Now I’m studying to become an Aerospace Engineer.

    Hopefully when I get old I’ll be able to tell my grandchildren about the naming process for Tau Zero Foundation.

    Stephen January 4, 2012 at 9:17

    “Long Result Foundation (plays off a line from Tennyson, referring to ‘the long result of time’)”

    I have not read Tennyson, but I have read Robert Heinlein; and those familiar with his sci-fi novel “Time for the Stars” will have heard of the “Long RANGE Foundation” (“LRF”) , the mega-rich (thanks to the “torch” drive their researchers developed) non-profit organisation which funds the sort of long term projects (like trips to the stars) which nobody else will touch.

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