Tau Zero Foundation
"A journey of a thousand light-years begins with a single step."
- Confucius (extended 1013)
Using mankind’s dream of interstellar flight as both 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 operating foundation (501c3) supported primarily through philanthropic donations, the Foundation seeks out and directs support to the best practitioners who can make credible progress toward this grand ambition and educate the public during this journey of discovery.
While reaching for the stars, we will create benefits every step of the way.
We will make the impossible possible.
The enormous benefits of practical interstellar flight should be obvious. Not only would this open the rest of the universe for humanity, but the technological spin-offs would be tremendous. Imagine the consequences of achieving practical interstellar flight. The required breakthroughs in energy, transportation, and habitats would be profoundly useful on Earth, too.
While these ultimate goals are far from fruition, the quest itself provides near-term benefits. Although some deem interstellar flight impossible, conceding defeat does not inspire progress. There is value in attempting the impossible. Such provocative challenges spur discoveries that others don’t even look for. They force thinking beyond mere extrapolations of existing technology. Interstellar flight provides a different perspective from which to ponder the lingering mysteries of cosmology. And it gives an inspirational theme around which to educate the public about the opportunities, challenges and methods of reasoned discovery.
Culturally, the goal of interstellar flight also reminds us that our existence is limited, encouraging us to behave responsibly while we are still stranded on this one small planet Earth. Such limits become more obvious when we actually try to exceed them. And finally, given the indefinitely long time scales of interstellar flight, this challenge gives us a reason to break from compulsive short-term thinking.
Filling a void: Although academia advances the underlying science and technology, it seldom addresses the speculative, long-range ideas of interstellar flight. Although various organizations advance space exploration, these typically cater to near-term challenges. And finally, although there are groups touting spaceflight breakthroughs, these lack credibility and correspondingly degrade the legitimacy of such ambitions. This Foundation answers the need for a dependable group to reach for the high-payoff "impossible" goals in a rigorous, systematic, and credible manner.
The Foundation is fundamentally a network of select practitioners, united in their shared quest of conquering interstellar flight, who build on each other's progress. This not only includes scientists and engineers who work the technical challenges, but also sociologists who address the cultural facets and journalists who communicate this progress to the public. Within the span of practitioners there are different functions, as follows.
Research Network Members are the broadest category and are responsible for keeping abreast of the literature in their specialty and flagging any relevant developments for the group via an Internet-based Professional Annotated Bibliography. (A general version for non-professionals is more readily available). They are also responsible for reviewing assigned submissions as part of the Research Assessment Database. In return for their services, they have full access to the Professional Annotated Bibliography and portions of the Research Assessment Database (limited by conflict-of-interest and non-disclosure concerns). They are also eligible to compete for Foundation funding for their research. Becoming a member of the Research Network requires having at least one publication in the peer-reviewed literature and the recommendation of an existing Network Member.
Principal Researchers are a subset of the Research Network Members who have greater responsibilities and are commensurately compensated by the Foundation for their consulting. Each has an assigned topic area, such as antimatter, light sails, or vacuum physics, that they are responsible for tracking. Unlike the general Research Network Members who tend to promote their own approaches, Principal Researchers are responsible for providing impartial comparative overviews of the variety of approaches within their topic area. They are also responsible for reviewing assigned submissions as part of the Research Assessment Database. Although they are also eligible to compete for Foundation funding for their self-directed research, conflict-of-interest limitations apply. Principal Researchers are selected by the Board of Directors for limited, renewable terms.
Skeptical Advisors are a subset of Research Network Members whose primary duty is to identify the weak points and critical issues underlying any research under consideration by the Foundation. Skeptical Advisors are compensated by the Foundation for their consulting and are selected by the Board of Directors for limited, renewable terms.
General Members refers to those who support the Foundation by paying membership dues. Their membership gives them more access to Foundation material than the non-contributing general public (such as to the general Annotated Bibliography), but they do not have access to the Professional Annotated Bibliography or Research Assessment Database. They can submit proposals to the Research Assessment Database for consideration, but there is no guarantee that their proposals will be reviewed unless they pay an additional reviewing fee.
Benefactors or "Superluminati," refers to philanthropists who make large contributions to the Foundation. Depending on contribution, they are entitled to a seat on the Board of Directors and have access to the ranked results of the Research Assessment Database.
The Board of Directors is responsible for the administrative operation of the Foundation and its resources and includes significant Benefactors and specialty advisors.
The practitioners are scattered across various university, industry, and government organizations. Often their Foundation activities are beyond what their employers sponsor, but the Foundation activities still compliment their occupation. This provides the opportunity for the Foundation to channel research grants through the members' existing labs rather than the Foundation needing to create its own lab, a least not initially. Similarly the Foundation avails itself of existing publication venues wherever possible, such as the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society or appropriate journals for professional publications.
Activities: Building on an existing network, the Tau Zero Foundation is developing in stages. The network is expanding and philanthropic support is now being sought to implement the following activities:
Screened Research Archive for Members (Internet accessible)
Professional Annotated Bibliography (provides quick scanning for relevance and quality)
Research Assessment Database (different levels of information and access)
Competitively Selected Grants (Bi-annual cycle supporting several short-duration tasks each cycle)
Invitational Research Institute (long-term plan)
Research Achievement Awards (encouraging practitioners via publicized cash awards)
Educational Outreach to inspire and educate future practitioners
Video documentaries with companion print publications (visionary goals with credible assessments)
Internet-accessible information (Annotated Bibliography, Introductions to specific research, etc.)
"Oyster Club" brainstorming sessions (mixing qualified practitioners with wealthy entrepreneurs)
Invitational Workshops (Bi-annual reflections on progress and projections for next steps)
Internet Proposal Submission Venue w/Review Service (feeds into Database and grant selections)
Capitalizing on Benefits (poised for spin-off ventures)
Initially, the focus is on propulsion and energy technology – the largest hurdles to practical interstellar flight. As the Foundation matures, the scope will be expanded to include the challenges of long-duration habitats, communication, autonomously reliable systems, interstellar robotics, and others.
On each challenge, the implications of both emerging technology and science will be considered. In many cases further technological advancements can only be achieved through the discovery of new science – new physics to overcome the fundamental limits of existing technology. Accordingly, controversial ideas are expected and these will be dealt with impartially, systematically, and rigorously.
The sociological aspects of interstellar flight shall also be addressed since this is at the very heart of the motivations and implications of an interstellar humanity.
Founding Architect: Marc G. Millis, Founder, Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project, Cleveland OH
Fundraising Director: Walter De Brouwer, Turing Industries, Belgium
Legal Advisor: Frank Nagorney, Attorney, Cowden Law, Cleveland OH
Database Advisor: Jonathan Hujsak, Neotopica, La Jolla CA
Advanced Propulsion: Brice Cassenti, PhD, Pratt & Whitney, CT
Metric Engineering Physics: Eric Davis, PhD, Warp Drive Metrics, NV
Science Writing: Paul Gilster, Author: Centauri Dreams: Imagining & Planning Interstellar Exploration (2004)
Special Relativity: William Harter, PhD, Univ. Arkansas
Antimatter Technology: Steven Howe, PhD, Los Alamos Nat'l Lab, NM & Hbar Technology, IL
Systems: Jordin Kare, PhD, Kare Technical Consulting, Seattle WA
Propulsion: Mike LaPointe, PhD, AST, Electric Propulsion, Huntsville AL
United States Air Force Academy Liaison: Maj. Timothy Lawrence, USAFA CO
Quantum Vacuum Physics: Jordan Maclay, PhD, Quantum Fields LLC & Professor Emeritus, Univ. Illinois
Interstellar Probes: Gregory Matloff, PhD, Author: The Starflight Handbook (1989)
Propulsion Physics: Marc G. Millis, AST, Propulsion Physics, Cleveland OH
Ohio Aerospace Institute Liaison: Curtis Smith, OH
Historian/Graphic Designer: Alexandre Szames, Paris France
Advanced Propulsion: Martin Tajmar, PhD, ARC Seibersdorf Research GmbH, Austria
Metric Engineering Physics: Harold (Sonny) White, AST Aerospace Engineer, Houston, TX
The activities outlined above could span anywhere from $1M-per-year to $6M-per-year depending on opportunities and scope, not including the Invitational Research Institute. The Institute itself is not planned until years after the Foundation has established a solid reputation. A philanthropic endowment of roughly $10M to $20M could kick-off the Foundation in a lasting manner, providing enough interest to cover a core of sustained activities. From there, additional grants and contributions would be sought to provide the full spectrum of activities, spanning basic research through public education. Membership dues and donations from the public are also sought as revenue. As much as the educational ventures are part of the Foundation's mission, they are also intended as promotional materials. And an entrepreneurial eye is kept open for converting incremental progress into marketable products. Over time it is expected that the Intellectual Property from the research and the royalties from the educational materials can evolve to becoming a source of earned income.
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. SETI has been faring well since it left NASA. Furthermore, there is evidence of a cultural change in the wings. Wealthy individuals such as Paul Allen, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk are supporting their own space-launch ventures. While these wealthy individuals focus on near-term adventures, this Foundation provides an outlet through which wealthy individuals can support the very-long-range space adventures as well.
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 ensuring humanity survives beyond its current bounds, shouldn’t we be doing more? By using the daunting challenge of an impossible goal, we could very well discover what mundane research 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. By joining the Tau Zero Foundation, you will be part of a network of realistic optimists who are willing to face the impossibilities and produce value along the way. Join us. Support us. Help give humanity a future worth working toward.