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:
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.