Back when I was first thinking about writing a book on interstellar flight, my reading began with Adrian Berry’s fine study The Giant Leap: Mankind Heads for the Stars. A science writer and novelist, Berry was science correspondent for The Daily Telegraph from 1977 to 1997, and is now the paper’s Consulting Editor (Science). The Giant Leap ranged through the various propulsion options and explained the history of the interstellar idea, but I found it more inspiring still in its expression of human motivations and the urge to explore. Looking at our human history of migration and exploration, Berry liked in particular the parallel between the settlement of the Polynesian islands and our future among the stars:
It is the ‘radiative’ nature of the Polynesian voyages that provides the closest parallel to interstellar travel. It was all made possible by that forerunner of a starship, the double canoe. Imagine twin hulls about nine metres in length, covered by a single deck and a lateen sail, a craft not dissimilar to a modern catamaran… [T]hese vessels were ‘self-reproducing,’ in the sense that they were built wholly from local materials. Each time a colony settled on an island, they would cut down trees to make fresh canoes. Each of these canoes would set forth to find fresh islands, and on arriving on these, each party would eventually make fresh canoes, and so on.
It is by a method akin to this that our descendants will learn to ‘hop’ from star to star, finding suitable planets as they go, always using local materials for the construction of colonies. For migration in the future in space will be but a continuation of migration on this planet in the past, a continuing exercise of what might be called the ‘migratory imperative.’
Berry continues to explore such ideas online. The Polynesian parallel stuck with me as I began writing Centauri Dreams, and I would encounter it again in the pages of Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience (see below). But Berry’s lively book put more than a few interstellar ideas in play for me, which is why I was so pleased to learn that he recently became the Tau Zero Foundation’s largest contributor to date, donating £7000, which works out to $10,825 US. Many thanks for the support, Adrian, both financial and intellectual, that you have provided over the years.
A Bookshelf on Starflight
All of this reminds me that in what might be called the ‘hunting and gathering’ phase of writing my Centauri Dreams book, I accumulated quite a few books pertaining to interstellar flight. And because it’s part of the Tau Zero Foundation’s charter to build and maintain a list of references, it seems like a good time to post the list below. It’s very much a work in progress, one that has grown from my initial bibliography to include titles recommended to me by others (and please feel free to suggest other titles, because it’s by no means exhaustive). The division into ‘General Audience,’ ‘College Level,’ etc., is at times arbitrary but I hope it will provide at least a bit of guidance to the kind of materials available here and the range of their investigations.
- General Audience
Berry, Adrian (2000) The Giant Leap: Mankind Heads for the Stars. New Yorks: Tor Books.
A look at the technologies that might one day lead to the nearest stars and beyond. Discusses the options for making such journeys, along with the political and philosophical imperatives that might drive such a mission. Interesting chapters on interstellar navigation and suspended animation.
Boyce, Christopher (1979) Extraterrestrial Encounter: A Personal Perspective. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books.
Speculations on the nature of alien intelligence and the possibilities for understanding and communicating with it. The odds on SETI and the possible use of Bracewell or von Neumann robotic probes for studying other planets play a role in this lively discussion.
Burrows, William E. Exploring Space: Voyages in the Solar System and Beyond. New York: Random House, 1990.
One of the best histories of the space program ever written, this book gives full weight to automated probes rather than manned flight, and speculates on the technologies that will take us outside the Solar System. Burrows’ look at the politics behind programs like the Space Shuttle resonates today.
Calder, Nigel (1978) Spaceships of the Mind. New York: Viking Press.
Speculations on space technologies including many interstellar concepts. Numerous useful though dated illustrations. The driving factors pushing space colonization are carefully examined.
Forward, Robert L (1995) Indistinguishable from Magic. New York: Baen Books.
Perhaps the greatest interstellar theorist of them all, Robert Forward offered mission concepts galore in the course of his career, many of them entertainingly discussed in this collection of essays. The author’s wry humor often shows through in discussions that range from wormholes to antimatter engines.
Friedman, Louis (1988) Starsailing: Solar Sails and Interstellar Travel. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Friedman’s background working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a once-considered solar sail mission to Halley’s Comet allows him to tap deep resources in explaining how solar sails will one day open up the Solar System, with potential for interstellar flight via particle or laser beam.
Kaku, Michio (2008) Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. New York: Doubleday.
Kaku discusses three levels of ‘impossibility,’ ranging from things we may one day puzzle out to technologies that would strike us as indistinguishable from magic, to use Arthur Clarke’s fine phrase. This wide-ranging study includes a look at interstellar technologies now under active study.
Krauss, Lawrence (1995) The Physics of Star Trek. New York: Basic Books.
A theoretical physicist offers thoughts on the scientific wonders of the popular TV series, discussing such issues as teleportation, time travel, warp drive and black holes. Excellent at untangling the futuristic but possible from the hugely improbable, based on known physics.
Macvey, John W. (1977, 1991) Interstellar Travel: Past, Present and Future. New York: Stein and Day.
Revised in 1991, this book examines interstellar travel technologies ranging from space arks to wormholes, with a long discussion of the nature of extraterrestrial life and how it might communicate with humans. Wide-ranging and easy to read, this is a good choice for young readers.
Myrabo, Leik and Dean Ing (1985) The Future of Flight. New York: Baen Books.
Starship drives are only one of the topics covered by this survey of future flight technologies, but the interstellar chapter is strong, surveying concepts from the Bussard ramjet to the laser-driven lightsail and antimatter engines. A good backgrounder for those wanting a quick survey of these ideas.
Nicholson, Iain (1978) The Road to the Stars. New York: William Morrow & Co.
A well-illustrated and lively survey of future space technologies, with a useful discussion of SETI and the possibilities of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. The major ideas for upgrading today’s engines are presented, beginning with ion drives and carrying forward to the Bussard ramjet.
Sagan, Carl (1980) Cosmos. New York: Random House.
Carl Sagan’s classic offers some of the most captivating illustrations ever made available in a space book. While the book, like the TV series it parallels, offers perspective on the entire human experience of the heavens, it places the possibilities of interstellar flight in a readable, powerful context.
Wright, Jerome L. (1992) Space Sailing. New York: Taylor & Francis.
A history of the solar sail concept, one that uses momentum from the Sun’s own light to drive a space vehicle, without the need to carry heavy fuel. Well illustrated, this book examines all the ways solar sails may change our future in space, both in the near term and the far.
- College Level
Adelman, Saul J. and Benjamin Adelman (1981). Bound for the Stars: Space Travel in our Solar System and Beyond. Inglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
The exploration of space from travel in the nearby Solar System to interstellar missions. The latter chapters discuss interstellar propulsion, navigation, the search for extrasolar planets and the first starship. Useful discussions as well about a plausible program for long-term interstellar planning.
Andreadis, Athena (1999) To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. New York: Three Rivers Press. A professional biologist goes to work on life sciences as depicted in Star Trek, with thoughts on everything from telepathy and the genetic code to the cultural sameness of the societies the Enterprise’s crew encounters. Entertaining and instructive.
Clarke, Arthur C., ed. (1990) Project Solar Sail. New York: Roc.
Useful essays from leading theorists examine the role of solar sails in future space missions, with attention to missions in the Solar System and beyond. The essays are interleaved with short fiction and even poetry that explores plausible scenarios for putting sails to work.
Dole, Stephen H. and Isaac Asimov (1964) Planets for Man. New York: Random House.
This is the popular version of a RAND Corporation study originally performed by Dole. The later version includes the thoughts of Isaac Asimov, and examines the factors necessary for planets to be habitable for humans, and our chances of finding them. Although dated, this book still offers useful information about the concept of a habitable zone and the factors that will one day make particular planets useful destinations for our probes.
Dyson, George (2002) Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. New York: Henry Holt and Co.
Freeman Dyson’s son tackles the great attempt to wed nuclear technology to deep space missions, Project Orion. Told with flair and access not only to key documents but the recollections of the major players, this history shows how one team of experts viewed journeys to the outer Solar System and beyond before the realities of the Test Ban Treaty put the concept beyond reach.
Forward, Robert L. and Joel Davis (1988) Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Interstellar theorist Robert Forward offers a thorough background to the history of antimatter research. Propulsion concepts that could drive our first starships are examined, while the methods for creating and storing antimatter and using it here on Earth receive solid scrutiny. The chapter on antimatter in science fiction is particularly energetic.
Gilster, Paul (2004) Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration. New York: Copernicus Books.
Surveys methods for moving an interstellar probe to speeds that could reach nearby stars in a single human lifetime. These range from fusion to antimatter, beamed lightsails, magnetic sails, Bussard ramjets and other concepts. Also covers interstellar navigation and exoplanet detection.
Kaku, Michio (1995) Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension. Oxford University Press.
Understanding the possibilities of interstellar flight demands a look at the things that may warp space and time, including wormholes that could offer fast transit without exceeding the speed of light. Michio Kaku explains the options with a minimum of jargon and clear, readable prose.
Mallove, Eugene F., and Gregory L. Matloff (1989) The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer’s Guide to Interstellar Travel. New York: John Wiley.& Sons.
A classic of interstellar studies, Matloff and Mallove’s book provides the necessary theory to understand the various propulsion methods proposed to reach the stars. All major concepts are considered by two authors who have been involved in interstellar concepts for decades.
Matloff, Gregory, Les Johnson and C. Bangs (2007) Living Off the Land in Space: Green Roads to the Cosmos. New York: John Wiley & Sons.
Space travel as we do it today requires large amounts of fuel that take up a major part of the rockets we launch. How we can learn to use resources in space itself may determine how soon we push into the outer Solar System and beyond. The science behind space tethers, solar sails and other techniques for in-System voyaging are here explored, along with speculations about even more audacious concepts that could take us to the stars.
Matloff, Gregory, Les Johnson and Giovanni Vulpetti (2010) Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel. Berlin: Springer. A comprehensive survey of solar sail concepts ranging from near-term designs like the Solar Polar Imager to interstellar possibilities enabled by laser-driven lightsails, this book summarizes our sail knowledge at the beginning of the solar sail era, with numerous thoughts on sail design, construction, deployment and trajectories.
Savage, Marshall T. (1994) The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. New York: Little, Brown & Co.
An optimistic look at how mankind can spread into the cosmos, offering a program to transfer a large proportion of the world’s population into venues off-planet. Step by step improvements lead to terraforming Mars, using the resources of the outer system, and moving to the nearby stars.
Strong, James (1965) Flight to the Stars. New York: Hart Publishing Company.
An early classic of interstellar studies, Strong’s book offers a rationale for the human expansion to the stars, while considering a variety of propulsion concepts to get the job done. While dated in specifics, the scenarios considered here paint possible futures for a star-faring race with vigor and enthusiasm.
Thorne, Kip S. (1994) Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.
Thorne is a major player in the theory of wormholes, and thus the kind of distortions of spacetime that may one day make it possible to travel vast distances quickly without ever exceeding the speed of light. This book places his theories into the Einsteinian context in readable if challenging fashion.
Zubrin, Robert (1999) Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.
The case for becoming a spacefaring civilization is made with enthusiasm and panache. The action ranges from terraforming nearby Mars to exploiting the resources of the outer planets, with solid chapters on interstellar propulsion and contact with extraterrestrial civilizations.
- Graduate/Professional Level
Czysz, Paul and Claudio Bruno (2009) Future Spacecraft Propulsion Systems: Enabling Technologies for Space Exploration. Berlin: Springer.
Space propulsion systems from near-Earth to the outer Solar System and beyond. Focus on applied engineering working within the known principles of physics, with emphasis on fusion rocket designs and the extension of today’s technologies to missions into deep space.
Doody, Dave (2009) Deep Space Craft: An Overview of Interplanetary Flight. Berlin: Springer.
Descriptions of interplanetary spacecraft with detailed looks at their instrumentation and the Earth-based operations needed to acquire and process their incoming data. Flight operations and the interactions between a mission’s science team and the light team are examined, with detailed appendices on the range of instruments that have so far flown, and those likely to be aboard spacecraft in the future.
Finney, Ben R. and Eric M. Jones (1985) Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.
This is a compilation of papers from the Conference on Interstellar Migration held at Los Alamos in May of 1983, which examined not only the scientific possibilities, but also the social, ethical and even legal ramifications of our move into the cosmos. Its look at how humanity has coped with past challenges, such as the settlement of the Pacific islands, places interstellar migration in context.
Kondo,Yoji, ed. (2003) Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generational Space Ships. Apogee Books Space Series 34. Collector’s Guide Publishing Inc (June 1, 2003).
Papers from a symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002, exploring propulsion concepts and the solutions needed for flight to the stars. The book also addresses the cultural and psychological issues related to long-term voyaging and ponders ‘generation ships,’ in which crew members spend their entire lives on voyages several centuries in duration.
Maccone, Claudio (2009) Deep Space Flight and Communications: Exploiting the Sun as a Gravitational Lens. Berlin: Springer.
Maccone has long been the champion of a mission to the Sun’s gravitational lens at 550 AU and beyond. Here he lays out the results of his two decades of study of the concept, discussing possible probe designs, the best targets for investigation, and the underlying principles of lensing. Section 2 examines the challenge of communicating between an interstellar spacecraft and the Earth, focusing on the opportunities found in the Karhunen-Loève Transform (KLT) for optimal telecommunications.
Matloff, Gregory L. (2005) Deep Space Probes: To the Outer Solar System and Beyond. Berlin: Springer/Praxis Books.
Recently revised, Matloff’s look at deep space technologies offers abundant references in its examination of current theories of interstellar propulsion, including nanotechnology and ramscoops that draw their fuel from hydrogen between the stars. Also included are speculations on astrobiology and the development of self-reproducing von Neumann probes that could saturate the galaxy.
Mauldin, John H. (1992) Prospects for Interstellar Travel. American Astronautical Society Science and Technology Series, Vol. 80. San Diego, CA: Univelt.
A thorough study of interstellar flight possibilities that covers, in addition to the relevant propulsion concepts, every aspect of starship design, including the navigation problem and the difficulties posed by lengthy voyages with human crews. The overall engineering of space probes designed for such missions is discussed at length, with abundant references for follow-up reading.
McInnes, Colin R. (1999) Solar Sailing: Technology, Dynamics and Mission Applications. Chichester, UK: Praxis Publishing.
The most exhaustive study of solar sail technology available, offering a rich list of references for specialists. Applications for near-term missions are considered in detail, with the relevant equations for understanding the forces at work. A thorough examination of sail materials and design explains where we are now and how solar sails may change the economics of propulsion. Beamed lightsails for interstellar missions.
Millis, Marc and Eric Davis, eds. (2009). Frontiers of Propulsion Science. Reston, VA: AIAA.
A compilation of essays from specialists about the prospects for breakthroughs that could revolutionize spaceflight and enable interstellar flight. Five major sections are included in the book: Understanding the Problem lays the groundwork for the technical details to follow; Propulsion Without Rockets discusses space drives and gravity control, both in general terms and with specific examples; Faster-Than-Light Travel starts with a review of the known relativistic limits, followed by the faster-than-light implications from both general relativity and quantum physics; Energy Considerations deals with spacecraft power systems and summarizes the limits of technology based on accrued science; and, From This Point Forward offers suggestions for how to manage and conduct research on such visionary topics.