by Marc Millis
Welcome to the birth of a new foundation. Using the dream of reaching other worlds as a long-range goal and a catalyst for near-term progress, the Tau Zero Foundation supports incremental advancements in science, technology, and education. As a private nonprofit (501c3) corporation, supported mainly through philanthropic donations, the Foundation seeks out and directs support to the best practitioners who can make credible progress toward this incredible goal and educate the public during this journey of discovery.
The enormous benefits of practical interstellar flight should be obvious. Not only would this free humanity from having just one safe haven, Earth, but the technological spin-offs would be profound. Imagine the consequences, where breakthroughs in transportation, energy conversion, and sustainable habitats would be realized on Earth as well as for expanding human presence beyond Earth. These technologies could answer a wide range of human needs.
Presently however, some of the world’s most reputable thinkers deem practical interstellar flight to be impossible, and they might very well be right. Conceding defeat, however, does not inspire progress. Even if the ultimate challenges are impossible, there is value in the attempt. Aiming for impossible goals forces thinking beyond mere extrapolation of existing achievements. It presents a provocative challenge to spur discoveries that others aren’t even looking for. It provides a different perspective from which to ponder the lingering mysteries of science. It gives an inspirational theme around which to educate the public about the opportunities and methods of reasoned discovery. And culturally, it helps remind us that we share a common humanity, temporarily stranded together on our one small planet Earth, to encourage us to behave more responsibly. Finally, given the indefinitely long time scales of interstellar flight, it gives us a role model for breaking away from the trappings of instant gratification.
The Tau Zero Foundation will establish itself as the dependable venue through which the visionary goals of interstellar flight can be advanced through imagination coupled with intellectual rigor. The allure of undiscovered breakthroughs will be used to inspire and educate the public, and in turn, these educational ventures will promote the Foundation. To advance science and technology, the Foundation will channel financial support to credible risk-takers within legitimate establishments, selected largely through competitive processes. To stay poised for capitalizing on ancillary benefits, the most promising developments will be aimed toward revenue-generating products and services.
Although academia advances the underlying science and technology, it seldom risks exploring the highly speculative ideas of interstellar flight. Even though various organizations advance space exploration, these typically cater to near-term challenges. While science fiction inspires, it is conveyed as entertainment rather than for deliberately provoking progress. And finally, although there are Internet groups touting spaceflight breakthroughs, these lack credibility and correspondingly degrade the overall legitimacy of the pursuit.
Regarding the philanthropic model, there are precedents. Both the SETI Institute (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) and Biosphere obtained considerably more funds through philanthropy than from the expected sponsor – government. In fact, SETI, a canceled NASA project, has been faring better since it became independent. Furthermore, there is evidence of a cultural change underway with regard to space exploration. Wealthy individuals such as Paul Allen, Sir Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are supporting their own space ventures. While they focus on near-term gains, this Foundation provides a reliable outlet through which wealthy individuals can support the far-future quests as well.
The creative driving force behind this effort is Marc G. Millis, who co-founded “Vision-21″ within Lewis Research Center (1990-1994), served as an advisor and editor for the Interstellar Propulsion Society (1995), and founded and led NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project (1996-2002). This Project looked at such controversial topics as gravity control, space drives, faster-than-light travel, and vacuum energy, and did so in a credible and efficient manner. For a total investment of less than $1.6M spread over 7 years, this project produced 14 peer-reviewed journal articles, addressed 8 different research approaches, posted an award winning web site, and garnered over 100 positive press articles for NASA. As a normal part of his operating strategy, Millis routinely pursues collaborations wherever possible. Such a strategy and the established network of collaborators will make for a more efficient and effective Foundation.
The following accomplished scientists, engineers, and journalists have already committed to contributing their talents. As the scout for the nearer-term interstellar options, Gregory Matloff, of the New York City College of Technology and a Hayden Fellow at the American Museum of Natural History, will be participating. Matloff co-authored the seminal book The Starflight Handbook (1989) followed by Deep Space Probes (2nd ed. 2005) and consults for NASA and others on the technologies for interstellar probes. An antimatter and nuclear propulsion expert is Steven Howe, Director of the Center for Space Nuclear Studies in Idaho Falls. Another propulsion expert is Martin Tajmar, author of Advanced Space Propulsion Systems (2003) and Head of Space Propulsion research for ARC Seibersdorf Research in Austria. The lead journalist for the Foundation is Paul Gilster, who recently published an overview of interstellar ambitions, Centauri Dreams (2004), and who continues to post interstellar news on his Centauri Dreams website.
Dana Andrews (Andrews Space, Inc.) brings to the Foundation expertise on space sails and numerous contributions in aerospace engineering. Geoffrey Landis (NASA GRC) is a physicist and science fiction writer with extensive background in interstellar issues. Space scientist Claudio Maccone (Alenia Spazio) has long championed interstellar studies and is the creative force behind FOCAL, a mission concept to reach the Sun’s gravity lens. Both Jean-Luc Cambier (Propulsion Directorate, Edwards Air Force Base) and Brice Cassenti (Pratt & Whitney) are experts in advanced space propulsion, while Eric Davis (Institute for Advanced Studies, Austin) brings expertise in exotic concepts like the warp drive. Physicist Bill Harter (University of Arkansas) is a specialist in special relativity and wave mechanics.
Other names key to the foundation’s success include antimatter specialist Gerald Jackson (Hbar Technologies); physicist Jordin Kare (Kare Consulting); Frank Mead (Propulsion Directorate, Edwards Air Force Base); astronautical engineering consultant Gerald Nordley; aerospace engineer Mike LaPointe (NASA MSFC); physicists Ed Zampino (NASA GRC) and Bill Meyer (GRC and Scattering Solutions LLC); physicist Jordan Maclay (Quantum Fields, LLC); Lt. Col. Tim Lawrence (US Air Force Academy); engineer Sonny White (NASA Johnson Space Center) and information technologist Jon Hujsak (Neotopica Inc.).
The Foundation also draws upon the work of graphic artist and journalist Alexandre Szames, along with journalists Ian Brown, Larry Klaes and Leonard David, to bring its work to the public. For fundraising and entrepreneurial guidance, Walter de Brouwer is participating. Founder of more that 40 companies including 2 international IPO’s, Time and CNN dubbed him a ‘serial entrepreneur.’ Walter also served on the program board of MIT’s Media Lab, but his most applicable adventure was Starlab, which brought together accomplished risk-takers from a variety of disciplines to collaborate on problems of infinite horizons. Legal council is provided by Frank Nagorney, a specialist in small business and a principal of Cowden Humphrey Nagorney & Lovett Co.
Much of the groundwork is already being set. Some research and outreach is already happening in small fragments scattered across the world, albeit to a very limited degree. But is this enough? On something as important as giving humanity a future beyond the bounds of Earth, shouldn’t we be doing more? By using the daunting challenge of a seemingly impossible goal, we could very well discover what mundane researchers will overlook. And what if the impossible is possible? If so, it is certain to happen sooner than the pessimists believe. That is the way of pessimists. The Tau Zero Foundation is being established to support a network of rational visionaries who are willing to tackle the impossible and produce value along the way. When our Web site is ready and we are ready to accept general memberships, we hope you will join us and support this work. We all have a common goal: To give humanity a future worth working toward.