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Initial Thoughts on the Starship Symposium

I’m just back from the 100 Year Starship Symposium. The thoughts below were written yesterday evening (the 2nd), just after the event ended.

It’s a lovely evening here in Orlando, one I’m enjoying while sitting out in front of the Hilton waiting for my taxi. I got a chuckle out of the audience at my talk at the 100 Year Starship Symposium when I mentioned something that is completely true: I’m actually a very retro kind of guy. Sure, starships are a passion, but I also restore old fountain pens, love film noir, and as I told the audience, chose an overnight sleeper train to come to Florida in rather than an aircraft.

They enjoyed the observation, probably because we’re all an odd mix of personally defined and often contradictory impulses. But as I soak up this gorgeous Florida evening, I’m feeling a profound singleness of purpose. To begin with, it’s clear to me that writing about the starship conference won’t be a matter of a single Centauri Dreams entry but rather a series of thoughts and recollections that will be scattered through any number of future articles. The experience was obviously memorable, the largest conference devoted to interstellar flight that I could have imagined, and as David Neyland, its organizer, told me, it happened because so many people came from so far in the service of a numbingly futuristic idea.

People like my friend Adam Crowl, who came all the way from Brisbane, Australia, and with whom I enjoyed good conversation throughout the event. People like Kelvin Long, the man whose inspiration put Icarus into operation, who came with fellow Icarus people like Pat Galea and Rob Swinney from the UK and Andreas Tziolas from Alaska. Marc Millis and I found an excellent Italian restaurant, and the next night I had a wonderful dinner conversation with Greg Benford over salmon and a superb Carneros Pinot Noir (thanks Al Jackson for picking up the wine tab!). I enjoyed my chats with Jim Benford as well, and it was great to see Richard Obousy, who came over from Texas. Special thanks to the many Centauri Dreams readers who introduced themselves as I walked between sessions.

If I had one criticism of what happened here, it’s that there were so many good papers to listen to, so many good people to hear, that the multi-track structure made it impossible to do everything I would have wanted to do. Michael Michaud’s paper on the long term implications of interstellar flight was a priority for me, but I had also committed to a number of readers that I would cover one of the breakthrough propulsion sessions — I was using Twitter to do a bit of live ‘micro-blogging’ — and I not only missed Michael’s talk, but found myself sitting on the floor typing, the session being completely packed as Marc Millis, Jordan Maclay, Eric Davis and Sonny White talked space drives and Alcubierre theory.

OK, you choose. Which of these would you go to and which would you regret missing:

  • “A Review of Interstellar Starship Design” – Richard Obousy (Icarus Interstellar)
  • “Light Sailing to the Stars” – Greg Matloff (New York City College of Technology)
  • “Mass Beam Propulsion: An Overview” – Gerald Nordley
  • Panel: “Structuring the 100 Year Starship” – Mae Jemison, moderator (The Jemison Group)
  • “Making Aliens” – Athena Andreadis
  • “Star Probes and ET Intelligence” – Stephen Baxter

It wasn’t easy, and it was like that all the time.

On the last day, we had a late meeting among Tau Zero and Icarus people and by the time we finished, almost everyone had left the conference facility. The venue was suddenly deserted and quiet, with that eerie sense you get when an enormous structure, seemingly at once, becomes empty. We found unused symposium programs and posters leaning up against a table. Think about this, I joked. We could collect all these and in twenty years, who knows what they would bring on eBay! We were laughing about this but I did cast a wistful glance back. Maybe we really should have picked the extras up…

Anyway, this was really a four-day conference packed into the equivalent of two days, so we were all running from paper to paper, session to session, with little time for breaks and even less time for meals until the day was over. A new meme was emerging – the ‘interstellar buzz’ – and it was palpable. I think everyone was as jazzed as I was about the fact that this meeting was even happening. How often do I get to chat with Jill Tarter in the elevator, catch up on the latest from my friend Claudio Maccone or have dinner conversation with John Cramer and Marc Millis talking about the CERN neutrino results?

Not that I was doing the talking in that conversation — I’m a writer, not a scientist, and I was in Orlando to keep learning as much as I could about a topic that’s so multi-faceted and rich that every new nugget uncovered seems to expose an even deeper vein of ore. So there was much listening to be done, banking on the willingness of scientist after scientist to share ideas and point me in the direction of further sources.

We managed plenty of Tau Zero and Icarus business as well, so in the rare free time discussions continued. The Icarus team was all over the place, and I quickly learned that if I stood even for a moment at the Tau Zero table, I would get pulled into a conversation related to one or the other (as well as my Tau Zero duties, I serve as a consultant for Icarus). My sense is that the starship conference is getting lots of pop from the media, which leads to the question of how long the interstellar buzz can be maintained. Time will tell, but my major goal long-term is to see the public getting back into the space game in terms of enthusiasm and interest, and turning Apollo-like passions toward the interstellar deep.

Can that happen? Maybe some day, and I’m not so unrealistic as to expect that a single symposium can make it happen overnight. But Dave Neyland had the right idea when he got DARPA into this game, because the DARPA imprimatur brought an intensity of focus that the community had been lacking. People who work on these topics invariably do so in their spare time. They’re separated not only by distance but the pressures of work and only occasionally see each other at conferences. An event like this can reveal how concentrated is their interest and how wide their potential audience, as long as we can build on what happened here.

I ran into a friend as I was waiting for my taxi who told me the whole thing was making him emotional, and I had something of the same reaction. What has to be said about many of the people working in this area is that they do it not only because of the utter fascination of the challenge, but because getting to the stars is a multi-generational quest for them, one they generally (though not universally) assume will not be achieved in their lifetimes, but one they believe with a passion their descendants will experience. And it is with a deep sense of commitment that they come forward to offer up their expertise for this gift to an unknowable futurity.

Emotional? Sure. Interstellar flight has long been talked about and it fills the pages of science fiction, but to see some of the best minds in a host of disciplines attacking it as a scientific problem and actually planning to create an organization that can last long enough to bring it seriously closer is a powerful experience. I’m now writing this in Orlando’s train station, having caught that taxi and resumed my work afterwards, and the sense that this was a once in a lifetime event just won’t go away. We’ll have other interstellar gatherings, but this one feels like a game-changer, one we’ll be talking about in various ways for a long time.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Martin J Sallberg October 3, 2011, 10:47

    Did they talk about a modified Alcubierre drive based on beaming multiple laser beams at a nanoparticle, and did they talk about the societal effects of abundance in space? Did any of those two subjects mention my name as a paper submitter?

  • Paul Gilster October 3, 2011, 10:54

    The answer to all three questions is no, at least in the sessions I was in. But the second point, on abundance and how to use the Solar System’s resources, was discussed in other sessions.

  • jkittle October 3, 2011, 11:12

    Paul you often mention you are a science writer , not a scientist. I find that to be a distinction without a difference. You clearly know the score on the technical difficulties and have discernment about the feasibility of various ideas. When I do project design work ( with genes) it is often not that different than when I am teaching a class. 90% of science is communicating ideas clearly, in the process they are often clarified and thereby improved and extended. Who owns an Idea? “The person who holds it clearly in their mind”.
    Thank you for covering this convention for those of us who can only “attend” through your eyes and ears… and pen.

  • Greg October 3, 2011, 12:11

    Paul, glad it was productive. As for being retro, I love fixing up classic cars. I believe that’s it’s important to know where we came from just as much as where we are going.

  • Paul Gilster October 3, 2011, 12:36

    Greg, well said! Knowing where we come from is a major theme of mine.

    And jkittle, thanks so much for the comment. I’m delighted to have a platform to bring some of the ideas at the convention to those who couldn’t be there. You would have loved these sessions…

  • David OHara October 3, 2011, 13:04

    For all who arranged the symposium..Well done.
    Can we look forward to a 95 YSS in 5 years?

  • ljk October 3, 2011, 13:59

    Even though I was unable to attend this Symposium as a practical matter, I am already regretting I did not attend. At least I and others will be able to enjoy and learn from it vicariously thanks to you, Paul. Maybe the next one….

    FYI, here is an early news article on one aspect of the Symposium, including an interview with Athena Andreadis:


    This piece makes me think even more that if humans are going to venture to the stars in person, they will have to be modified to exist in a non-terrestrial world.

    BTW, unless the article meant a space probe deliberately designed, built, and launched to explore the interstellar medium beyond the Sol system, we do have four robot probes (with their final rocket stages) way out there (Pioneer 10 and 11, both defunct, and Voyager 1 and 2, still operating and returning data through 2025), and one on its way – New Horizons, with the ashes of the first human to enter the wider galaxy, Pluto discoverer Clyde Tombaugh. Just had to point this out.

  • jkittle October 3, 2011, 14:25

    I did note that this is getting a fair amount of press. most of it is a bit shallow but reasonably accurate. I di see one quote that was a bit out there ( form the IBtraveler web site:

    -Although child development in a weightless environment is important, scientist are unsure if the process of having a baby in space is even possible.

    “Sex is very difficult in zero gravity, apparently, because you have no traction and you keep bumping against the walls,” biologist Athena Andreadis told SPACE.com. “Think about it: you have no friction, you have no resistance.”
    end quote
    =to which I might reply , Difficult perhaps , but I for one would be willing to give it a try.. given a motivated partner. All in the name of biological research

  • Athena Andreadis October 3, 2011, 16:03

    Paul, I’m glad we met, however, briefly and your elegiac tone is somewhat fitting. I will be sharing my own views of the symposium in the next day or so.

    As I said to Larry at my blog, some of my comments that made their way into the Space.com piece were off the cuff (others were from my talk, so they’re more thought out). As for sex in space, I did add that we can solve the problem with some kind of hammock-like webbing — perhaps bring back the Puritan courtship sewn pouches in a different configuration!

    The sex part is solvable; what is unclear is whether embryos can form and brain neurons can get wired in reduced gravity. As I said in my talk, it will avail us little to acquire the capability to launch starships if we cannot have kids or think straight.

  • Tibor October 3, 2011, 16:36

    Paul, it is great to read Your words about the conference – and I was there, at least in thoughts, with You, ans with all of our interstellar fellows, even if I could not make the journey this time. Can’t wait to read the coming stories.

  • David OHara October 3, 2011, 17:45

    Dang, missed my opportunity to patent that elastic band to hold couples together in zero-g.
    However, I still think that the best killer app for space is the biggest app for the internet……….porn. Think about it, camera shots from all possible angles, mirrored walls etc. Bigelow should allow a porn film to be made in space and then set up a “Honeymoon Suite”.

  • coolstar October 3, 2011, 17:59

    Very nice write-up Paul and I’m looking forward to more about the conference. Any sense of the fraction of people attending who were not academics, and therefore more than likely on their “own dime”?
    As for sex in space, zero-g should make things much easier (with a little thought and a few bungee cords……); I’d take zero-g over a pool and/or scuba gear any day!

  • Kareem Elashmawy October 3, 2011, 18:01

    On behalf of myself and my colleagues at the Florida Institute of Technology’s Society of Physics Students and Students for the Exploration and Discovery of Space we’d like to thank you, Icarus the the remainder of the Tau Zero Foundation for your presentations and perspectives. We have been inspired a fantastically and generated an enormous amount of hype within our circles. We have been seriously inspired to consider research relevant to interstellar flight and are already planning to present our favorite topics from the conference to students who could not make it. Personally I enjoyed seeing the current work in warp theory, Millis’s slide on current physics anomalies, and the economic considerations of Interstellar flight planning.

    *I do not own the linked website; I simply administrate and promote it.

  • Dan Ibekwe October 3, 2011, 18:52

    It sounds fascinating and very productive. I want to hear more about the Alcubierre drive!

    As for the reproductive issues, I’d have thought that most of those could be taken care of by building the ship with a big enough spin hab.

  • Astronist October 3, 2011, 19:13

    The sex in space stuff is great for the media, of course, but surely nobody’s taking it seriously? Clearly, no passenger-carrying starship is going to be launched until several generations have lived and reproduced successfully in space colony conditions? I assume that the space colony as an intermediate step towards human interstellar travel must have received a great deal of discussion in Orlando?

    Stephen, Oxford, UK

  • Paul Gilster October 3, 2011, 20:11

    coolstar asks:

    Any sense of the fraction of people attending who were not academics, and therefore more than likely on their “own dime”?

    I’d love to know the answer to that myself. My impression was that there were a lot of non-academics in attendance — I met quite a few — but I don’t have a breakdown on this. Maybe I can get some information out of DARPA.

  • Paul Gilster October 3, 2011, 20:14

    Kareem Elashmawy writes:

    On behalf of myself and my colleagues at the Florida Institute of Technology’s Society of Physics Students and Students for the Exploration and Discovery of Space we’d like to thank you, Icarus the the remainder of the Tau Zero Foundation for your presentations and perspectives.

    Kareem, it was great to meet you at last, and I thank you for the excellent work you’re doing for Tau Zero on the Facebook fan page. As we discussed, one of our major drivers is education and inspiration for the next generation of scientists, so it’s a pleasure to see such a receptive and talented audience.

  • Athena Andreadis October 3, 2011, 20:39

    My thoughts on the symposium:

    If They Come, It Might Get Built

  • jkittle October 3, 2011, 20:43

    Paul you mentioned trying to keep up with all the great talks.. any chance the abstracts might be online or that we could create an archive of powerpoints to view.
    On a related topic, it looks as though there are a fair number of well thought out ideas, perhaps a critical mass. Is there a journal devoted to the development of interstellar travel and space colony engineering? An online , open access PEER REVIEWED journal might be something that could be grant funded (DARPA again?) NASA would probably not go for it unless the govn’t contractors somehow benefited

  • Interstellar Bill October 4, 2011, 0:38

    In agreement with Astronist about space experience,
    I emphasize the supreme importance of shielding
    to space settlement (unless you don’t care about birth defects).
    Down Here cosmic rays only come from above,
    but Out There the solid angle is doubled,
    so the shielding in any direction
    must be twice as absorptive as Earth’s atmosphere
    (the depth of which is hard to replicate in space).

    Worse yet, relativistic speeds need even more shielding
    (roughly proportional to speed squared)
    adding to mass-ratio woes.

    Besides mass shielding, a magnetic field is an approach,
    but small spacecraft such as today’s mean intense magnetic fields,
    but in the future the superconductive loops will be much larger than the ship they’re protecting, so weaker fields could be used.

    At least it’s easy to keep the field-wires cold, out between the stars.

    This is another technology that will be developed first just for ordinary spaceflight.

  • Paul Gilster October 4, 2011, 7:39

    jkittle writes:

    Paul you mentioned trying to keep up with all the great talks.. any chance the abstracts might be online or that we could create an archive of powerpoints to view.
    On a related topic, it looks as though there are a fair number of well thought out ideas, perhaps a critical mass. Is there a journal devoted to the development of interstellar travel and space colony engineering?

    Re the abstracts, they’re not to my knowledge online, but I’ll keep readers posted about this — as I mentioned earlier, the full articles will eventually come out in JBIS, but what would be ideal would be an online presence as well. As to the journal, this is one of my great hopes, a ‘Journal of Interstellar Studies,’ or something like that, with full attention to these issues and a solid, peer-reviewed foundation. It’s not out there yet but remains a goal we’re working toward.

  • Andreas Tziolas October 4, 2011, 7:45


    It was a distinct pleasure to meet you, your guidance for many young Icarii including myself has been reassuring and your broad shoulders in the interstellar community a staging point for our immediate and long term plans.

    As for the Interstellar Buzz, I can attest to this: We thought we were few. Tau Zero, Marc Millis, Greg Matloff, Jim Benford, Claudio Maccone, our young Icarii amongst notable but easily countable others. What we found in Orlando, was that the fire I have witnessed personally burning in the belly of many young Icarii was found amongst many others. Many equally well fleshed out ideas for the future now coming to the surface. Discussions were had and commitments were made, the type which transcend the upcoming 100YSS RFP.

    If anything the 11.11.11 deadline is sufficient cause for a redoubling of efforts, formalizing our mission, vision and research plans. Education, outreach, science, research, development, marketing and business plans are being laid bare, fleshed out, understood, criticized, torn asunder, reconstituted and improved upon. Plans are solidifying. Many plans in fact, from many groups, all respected and appropriate. Teams are growing fast, getting organized and finding ways to see eye to eye; and regardless of who the winner is, I see those individual plans becoming together as part of a whole. The world is turning their eyes to the stars.

    This buzz has lit a spark, the glow of the wildfire can be gleaned in the distance and as we find ourselves warming ourselves around pits, many kindred spirits can be seen stepping out from the woods to join the interstellar community.

    We just need to keep pushing.


    Andreas Tziolas
    Icarus Project Leader

  • Michael Spencer October 4, 2011, 7:46

    It’s just luck that I live in driving distance from Orlando, Paul. Driving up from Naples I really didn’t know what to expect. I did know that there were so many headliners that this had to be a home run.

    And so it was.

    Time of course was the scarce resource. On the other hand, I met–and talked to– the Benford Boys, both disarmingly congenial; I met you, of course, and regretted I couldn’t slice some of your time away from other responsibilities; Adam, it goes without saying, is a funny guy with little understanding of the power of his blog! I teased him about updating-you’ll remember his very sweet summary on SpaceX last May-and he professed genuine surprise that people were reading his blog. Well, he’s still young…

    I talked to dozens of people, including several journalists; PopSci sent a stringer. Of the others, all paid their way, many from a very long distance.

    As to the missed tracks: at some point, perhaps soon, the video will be available. I don’t see mention on the website, but I do look to download and watch every one of them.

    For those of you who were not able to make it, keep the faith! With people like Dave on the team, there’s sure to be a repeat.

  • Marc G Millis October 4, 2011, 8:46

    Great write-up, and I’ll echo the compliments of jkittle regarding how well you are doing the tough job of communicating these topics to broad audiences. If only I could write so fluently and effectively.

    To all those who I finally met there,
    It was great to meet you, and I regret I could not spend more time with each of you. It is heart-warming to hear of all the students (some of which have already grown up into day jobs) that were inspired by my works over the years.

    I am just back to home myself, with one of our cats sleeping on my unpacked suitcase as I begin to act on what I learned at this event. Tau Zero will be submitting a proposal to the DARPA solicitation, as will Project Icarus on their own, plus many others that I talked to, each with their own tactics of how to capture and apply that seed funding.

    As far as abstracts and slides… The papers themselves will be submitted to the JBIS for consideration for a special publication on this event. I do not know if DARPA plans to release the abstracts. Also, I am investigating the possibility of offering my charts for download to Tau Zero supporters. Please give me at least 3 weeks to fit that into my workload.

    I’m not sure what will come after this event. The character of any sequels will be strongly affected by the character of who wins the seed funds. Recall, too, that is still an “if” because DARPA has the option of not awarding any funds if they do not like any of the proposals.

    Regardless of that outcome; my crew will still strive to provide you the most accurate information about the state-of-art of starflight, from the seemingly simple solar sails to the seemingly impossible faster-than-light; the growing knowledge about what is out there and how far to we have to travel to reach it; and human relevance, covering what this quest gives humanity today through the issues of eventually stepping onto another habitable world.

    Ad astra incrementis !


  • Paul Gilster October 4, 2011, 8:50

    Re Athena Andreadis’ recent conference summary, I want to quote this elegant section:

    “If we seek our future among the stars, we must change for the journey – and for the destination. Until now, we have participated in our evolution and that of our ecosphere opportunistically, leaving outcomes to chance, whim or short-term expedience. In our venture outwards, we’ll have to overcome taboos and self-manage this evolution, as we seek to adapt to the new, alien worlds which our descendants will inhabit.

    One part of us won’t change, though: if we ever succeed in making our home on earths other than our own, we will still look up and see patterns in the stars of the new night skies. But we will also know, each time we look up, that we’re looking at distant campfires around which all our relatives are gathered.”

    What a lovely turn of phrase that last sentence is.

  • Paul Gilster October 4, 2011, 8:52

    Andreas Tziolas: Thanks for that nice comment. It was a pleasure to meet you as well, and my compliments — you’re doing a splendid job in marshaling the Icarus effort and keeping the focus — I know this is hard work! Icarus is a model for what can happen when enthusiastic talent meets real time commitment, and I congratulate you for your major role in this effort. I look forward to our next chance to talk (let’s hope it won’t be that far in the future).

    Michael Spencer: Yes, wish we could have had more time as well. Unfortunately, as you saw, everything was happening at once, and between paper presentations and business meetings re Tau Zero and Icarus, I was always on the run, with regrets for having to be so hard to reach. But great to meet you after all these years of good correspondence.

  • David Ohara October 4, 2011, 9:26

    Regrets…….Being too fascinated by the technical stuff being presented, I did not take time to meet people. Michael Spencer and I did talk over lunch (I am the guy from Tallahassee) but I never ran into Paul Gilster. My ignorance of the various people involved kept me from meeting them. I didn’t even know who the Benfords were (not much into sci fi but now I’ll have to look into it more).
    Logically, you know there are many other people who are fascinated by this topic but to actually be at talks on it where you think “OK, I thought of that but not doing that other thing” for two days was overwhelming. NO, you are not crazy, other people really consider that starships might be possible.

  • A. A. Jackson October 4, 2011, 12:35

    I spoke to Jim Benford about the number of papers submitted, he said, just for his session they received way more than they could fit in.
    I had not known there had been other Interstellar Flight conferences, I wonder if they were as big as this one!
    With this much interest seem like could almost be an annual event, tho I know how trouble that is to organize!
    Great meeting you Paul.

  • ljk October 4, 2011, 12:53

    Theologian asks government-funded conference, “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?”

    By Cyriaque LamarOct 4, 2011 7:00 AM

    What would the discovery of an alien civilization mean for the most basic tenets of Christianity? This question was explored last Saturday at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

    At this DARPA-sponsored event, theologian Christian Weidemann of Ruhr-University Bochum attempted to square the messianic salvation of mankind with an endless galaxy rife with (if I had my druthers) laser-griffins and sentient mop empires.

    In a panel titled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?”, Weidemann recognized the conundrums of trying to balance Jesus Christ’s salvation of mankind with a massive universe of billions of galaxies.

    Weidemann mentioned that either A.) Jesus sacrificed himself for each alien civilization; or that B.) humans are simply in a privileged position.

    Full article here:


  • Gregory Benford October 4, 2011, 15:04

    “Maybe we really should have picked the extras up…”

    I did, at least some. I’ve already given most away!

    All you say is true. We must plan for a conference a year or two downstream, hosted by the winner of the DARPA funding.

  • Marc G Millis October 4, 2011, 16:15

    Speaking of conferences…
    Some cohorts and I will be chairing sessions on starflight for the “Nuclear and Future Flight Propulsion Sessions” at the 2012 JOINT PROPULSION CONFERENCE, Atlanta Georgia, 30-July through 01-Aug, 2012.

    Unfortunately, this event is focused on propulsion and power, rather than all that other interesting stuff too: humanities, transhumanism, biological, etc.

    A full interstellar symposium is warranted in roughly 2 yrs from now to avoid overtaxing travel budgets. If we end up winning the DARPA funds, we’ll set the sessions so that different disciplines can mix it up a bit.

    CALL FOR 2012 propulsion and power PAPERS:


  • ceres777@hotmail.co.uk October 5, 2011, 4:50

    “Weidemann mentioned that either A.) Jesus sacrificed himself for each alien civilization; or that B.) humans are simply in a privileged position.”
    Interestingly, this was not only considered in a CS Lewis trilogy (space trilogy), but it also came up in a Ray Bradbury book (silver locusts). It’s been discussed a lot in SF.

    I can’t see why Christianity would have a problem with ET, though – it already has non-human intelligences at work…

  • ljk October 5, 2011, 9:44

    One reason I gave in an article I wrote for Centauri Dreams last year on why ETI might actually come all the way to Earth is missionary zeal. If alien intelligences have their own forms of religion, they may be as compelled to share the “Good News” with those less fortune creatures who are woefully ignorant of the truth and permanence of their deities as human missionaries have with cultures they perceive as primitive and unwashed.

    At least for humanity, religion has been a strong binding social force, regardless of how it may be perceived by the more educated and historically aware classes today.

    Something similar to religion may be the case for intelligences elsewhere, at the risk of anthropomorphizing them.

    Religion may be the glue that holds a worldship society together, at least for humanity. It may also be one of the key motivations for a worldship being built in the first place.

    As I said recently, our first human interstellar voyagers may not be the shining, noble astronauts of NASA, but instead groups such as those who want to practice their faith unimpeded by the rest of human society. As an actual example, Biosphere II was originally built by a rich entrepreneur to see if he and his followers could live on Mars; it was essentially a personality cult from what can be gathered about that group.

    About twenty years ago, I informally participated in a Contact event online where various types of people and organizations would create and send what they felt would be most important to learn about humanity to a hypothetical ETI recently detected. A Christian minister was beaming the entire text of the Bible to these aliens. When I asked him if the ETI would be able to understand that work even if they could translate it, he said (playing in character) that if the aliens were on the side of good then they would be able to understand and appreciate what the Bible had to say even without any extra historical and cultural context to guide them. If not, then we would know what their true natures were and whose supernatural side they were on.

    Now imagine this type of thinking and actions from a religious missionary ETI who also only want to help the poor, unwashed masses of Sol 3 living in virtual isolation from the rest of the Universe. Even the non-religious Borg from Star Trek felt it was their duty to “uplift” less advanced societies throughout the galaxy.

  • Duncan Ivry October 5, 2011, 12:52

    “Religion may be the glue that holds a worldship society together …”

    … or cause it to explode and let the members of the society do cruelties to each other. There are many, many examples in history. The same is true for several ideologies. I shudder when I think of a worldship with religion as a supposed factor of success.

    When it comes to space travel — at least in this case –, keep away from religion and ideology.

  • jkittle October 5, 2011, 16:45

    Religion simply has to be factored into all our plans, because it is inescapable.. again read CS Lewis who also had some nice insights into how Christians will likely view an alien species. You do not have to be a believer to see that religion will adapt and thrive in the future. Cyborgs will believe.

  • Dennis Silin October 5, 2011, 19:48

    Greetings from Canada!
    Enjoyed meeting you in Florida and enjoyed symposium greatly. I am looking forward to see all the papers published! Would be nice for someone to read them all and write a summary report on the proposed ideas.

  • ljk October 5, 2011, 20:33

    Assuming the humans sent on a Worldship are not terribly modified from what our species is now, the planners will need to come up with something better than religion to keep a society in line. People need hope for something beyond themselves and their everyday lives. Will knowing they may reach another planet some day be enough to sustain generations? Or are we going to have Orphans of the Sky no matter what and the colonists will just end up creating their own religion out of half-understood ideas?

    No system is perfect because no human is perfect. Perhaps that is what Worldship planners better keep in mind when constructing the human society, rather than hope and assume they can make a utopia, which ironically is a word meaning No Place.

    Maybe this is why we haven’t been visited by ETI. No one is perfect and their flaws keep them from lasting long enough to visit other star systems. As Thomas Jefferson once said, if people were angels we wouldn’t need laws.

  • Paul Gilster October 6, 2011, 8:00

    Dennis Silin writes:

    Enjoyed meeting you in Florida and enjoyed symposium greatly. I am looking forward to see all the papers published! Would be nice for someone to read them all and write a summary report on the proposed ideas.

    Great to meet you as well, Dennis, and congratulations on delivering your first conference paper, with no less than Jill Tarter introducing you. Well done! I’m anxious to see how the collected material from the conference will be handled. We know that papers will be published in JBIS, but I hope DARPA will find a way to put the videos online. Right now the word is the videos are considered archival only and will not be posted.

  • kelvin October 6, 2011, 18:52

    I’m a physicist, but sometimes, the humanity in me wants to express my thoughts a different way.

    The 100 Year Starship Builders:

    Unsupported, disorganized and left to roam,
    The interstellar pioneers, volunteers working alone.
    In a backroom study or a worn out shed,
    Staying up all night, balance life on a thread.

    Then someone had a plan, to bring them all together,
    A plan for a Starship, species endure forever.
    The conference of the decade, three days were lent,
    From around the world, to Florida people went.

    Home of the Shuttle, Saturn V and all,
    Where dreams exist for some, right stuff stand tall.
    We can go to the Moon, do other things and more still,
    Courage needed to reach further, imagination to the real.

    Greeting and meeting, catching a gaze from afar,
    Many were strangers, but united by the stars.
    Then eye met eye, and hand met hand,
    Kindred spirits they became, no longer in a foreign land.

    The nervousness evaporated, humanity prevailed,
    I just want to build a Starship, not tomorrow but now.
    Talks were said and done, negotiations were made,
    The plan for an organization, this day were first laid.

    Engineering, physics, philosophy and vision,
    Economics, politics, plans and a mission.
    Biology, astronomy, pick a target star,
    Finding ET, do we even know who we are?

    And whoever is the winner, of this most treasured of goals,
    They must huddle the community together, build fire from the coals.
    It’s the worlds dream too, every continent on Earth,
    The 100 year Starship, see us launch from this turf.
    Kelvin F.Long
    Co-founder, Project Icarus

  • bigdan201 October 7, 2011, 1:42

    It’s too bad I couldn’t attend. I probably would’ve been one of the only twenty-somethings there, but it still would’ve been interesting. In any case, congrats to those involved for a successful meeting.

    As for religion, it is a social force that will always be around, however you feel about it. I will say that it’s not all bad. While wars have been fought over it, many more wars were fought over territory, trade routes, resources, national pride, and other ideologies. The OP (original poster) often brings up cathedrals as a long-term project analogous to space endeavours, and religion may also help in that regard.

  • Ralph Swanson October 7, 2011, 3:03

    We were very pleased to meet some of your and other of the inspiring people and look forward to your work. One interesting fact from the conference seems to be the engineers were not sure how to get there, but the financial people were thinking about having the Trillions needed in place decades from now when they do!

  • ljk October 7, 2011, 9:01

    Ralph Swanson said:

    “One interesting fact from the conference seems to be the engineers were not sure how to get there, but the financial people were thinking about having the Trillions needed in place decades from now when they do!”

    That is very good to know, because the economic realities of these endeavors often seem to be forgotten by the engineers and general space buffs, even in these ridiculous times.

    We would have colonies throughout the Sol system by now if it were not for those with the purse strings continually denying NASA and other space agencies the funding required for such goals. Space fans really need to work on educating these folks as to the overall value of space utilization and exploration.

    And the SETI project at Hat Creek would not have run into the problems they encountered if an economist had been on hand to tell the SETI Institute they needed to focus on the long-term funding in addition to raising the intial funds for the construction of the radio telescope farm.

  • Sean M. Brooks October 9, 2011, 0:34

    Ladies and gentlemen:

    What bothers me about the “sex in space” talk is not whether it can be done (the answer, given some ingenuity, is yes), but rather of how little has been said of whether women can become and stay pregnant in zero or very low gravity. We would have long since known the answer to that question if Lunarian or space habitat colonies having spin generated gravity had been built.

    The late Poul Anderson, who was so often PRESCIENT in so many ways, considered that question in his novel THE STARS ARE ALSO FIRE (1994). A major character in that book, Dagny Beynac, became pregnant on the Moon but lost the baby by miscarriage before reaching full term. I’ll quote how she explained this tragedy to her husband from pages 95-96.

    “She nodded and spoke quickly. “Dr. Nguyen drew me the picture. Computer models flip flop when you imput changed data. They took those data off me. Examinations, tests, specimens, electrochemical monitoring, my God, I’ll be in the scientific journals for the next five years. Sure, I’m the single case, but I seem to have supplied critical information that was missing. The revised opinion is that what happened was inevitable. Contraceps wear off before they would on Earth, with a random time distribution, and no pregnancy will go to term. The lab animals fooled us. For one thing, humans are a lot bigger, which makes fluid managment an entirely different engineering problem, at least in a weak grav field. For another thing, the human brain, as complicated as it is, gets tricked into sending the wrong signals to the whole muscular-glandular-nervous female reproductive system. The placenta’s chemical defenses break down, allergic reactions build up, the fetus gets expelled but it’s dead or dying anyway. Our kind will never breed naturally on Luna.” ”

    Poul Anderson also speculated on pages 96-97 that the solution to this problem would be to genetically modify embryos to enable them to reproduce in low gravity after reaching adulthood. Also, space habitats producing by spin, say, an Earth normal gravity, would allow non genetically modified humans to have children.

    As for the theological aspects of humans meeting non human rational beings, that was discussed by me in an essay I compiled from different sources. An essay too long for a comment box but which I would be glad to send to interested inquirers.

    Sean M. Brooks

  • ljk October 9, 2011, 17:01

    The 40-Year Itch

    Would-be space explorers, scientists, and a couple of crackpots gather at DARPA’s 100-Year Starship Symposium to try to get interstellar travel unstuck.

    By Konstantin Kakaes |Posted Wednesday, Oct. 5, 2011, at 1:23 PM ET

    This article arises from Future Tense, a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate. Future Tense explores the ways emerging technologies affect society, policy, and culture. To read more, visit the Future Tense blog and the Future Tense home page. You can also follow us on Twitter.

    Will humans ever reach the Andromeda Galaxy?

    The fastest a person has ever traveled is just 24,791 miles per hour. The three men of Apollo 10 went that fast on their way back from the moon in 1969.

    The fastest a man-made object has ever traveled out of the solar system is 39,000 miles per hour—the speed with which Voyager 1, a space probe launched in 1977.*

    David Neyland wants to beat these dusty, decades-old records. Neyland is a tall man, with the bushy beard of a frontier prophet and the measured tones of a midranking bureaucrat. He is both of these things. The head of the tactical-technology office at the military research agency DARPA, he convened a group of more than 1,000 at the Orlando Hilton last weekend to strategize about the next great era in space travel.

    The mission of the 100-Year Starship Public Symposium: to set about organizing a century-long effort to send a spaceship to another star. Neyland opened the conference to the public, drawing sci-fi fans and space geeks along with professional scientists.

    Ph.D. or not, all were frustrated with the lack of progress in space.
    As one wag in the audience would say, we should be having this meeting at the lunar Hilton. There was a sense that, for the just over 40 years since Neil Armstrong set foot on the moon, nothing new has been done.

    The symposium was far-reaching, with presentations including “Modular Aneutronic Fusion Engine for an Alpha Centauri Mission” and “To Humbly Go … Breaking Previous Patterns of Colonization.” The meat of the conference was hard science: the physics and engineering of propulsion. The dessert, which drew in the public, came in the form of sessions on space and religion (“Did Jesus die for Klingons, too?”) and panels with sci-fi writers.

    But many came for the dessert and strayed to the meat. One of the hard-core tracks (“Time-Distance Solutions: Exotic Physics”) was so popular it had to be moved to the symposium’s biggest room. The session’s moderator, John Cramer, a physics professor from the University of Washington in a plaid shirt and sport coat, said:

    “In times to come I predict this will be looked back on as the Woodstock of star travel.” He compared the exotic physicists to “the punk bands, the guys that break the rules in order to get laid faster.”*

    There are many complications to interstellar travel, but the fundamental problem is that we need to go faster. Burning things—what almost every spacecraft so far has relied on for propulsion—would require trips that last tens of thousands of years. Nuclear rockets of various types—fission, fusion—would be faster but have their own drawbacks. Fission rockets are, in principle, technically feasible today, but launching them would be politically impossible because of the risk of radioactive contamination, if the rocket were to blow up on lift-off.

    The next option is solar sails, which aren’t so different from regular sails, except instead of wind, they rely on the pressure of light bouncing off them. They have the big advantage of not having to carry propellant (which nuclear rockets, like regular rockets, would have to do). A variant on solar sails, the simplest of which rely on sunlight, would instead bounce off a beam—laser or microwave—sent from earth, which has the advantage that it could be tightly focused.

    After years of being all talk, a Japanese probe launched last year became the first to use solar sails for propulsion, making it to Venus in just over six months. James Benford, an entrepreneur who founded the company Microwave Sciences, gave one of the most focused talks of the conference, addressing the economics of microwave-driven sails. Because microwave ovens are cheap, he said, we could assemble an array of thousands of microwave ovens into an array to push sails. This was a great example of the reverse spin-off argument: It’s more likely that Earth-bound developments will make things in space feasible than that astronaut ice cream will take over the nation’s stomachs.

    These two most obvious paths—solar sails and nuclear rockets—are methods that, if we spent a lot of money and time on developing them, would definitely work moderately well. But neither will ever be that good. The stars are just too far. What we really need is something radically different, a game-changer. For that, I turned to Kramer’s exotic physics session.

    Usually musical festivals build up to the big names. But the exotic physics session opened with a rock star in the world of space geeks: Marc Millis.* Millis was famous for having persuaded NASA to run a short-lived “breakthrough propulsion physics” project from 1996 to 2002. During my subsequent interview with him, we were interrupted three times by attendees eager for Millis’ autograph. He now runs his own outfit, the Tau Zero Foundation, which scrapes by on donations. He also literally wrote the book on the subject: Frontiers of Propulsion Science, which has whole sections on how to dissuade crackpots.

    While careful not to overpromise, Millis is trying to think of ways that a spacecraft could be propelled without fuel. “You have to pick something completely different,” he says. “Why don’t we go back to the fundamental physics and try and find solutions around that?” One of his ideas is to try to push against the universe. “You move one way and the universe moves the other way. If you start thinking about this, your head starts spinning. What,” he asks, “are you pushing the universe relative to?”

    Throughout the weekend, there was some disconnect between the space-curious members of the public, eager for visions of Star Trek futures, and the scientists engrossed in the nitty-gritty. Millis was followed by Harold “Sonny” White, from NASA’s Johnson Space Center. While talking about the field equations of general relativity, he had the excitement of someone describing a running back juke around a defender. When he segued into the Chung-Freese metric, the woman next to me, a matronly type with dyed red hair, turned to her companion and asked, “Do you understand this?” He had a bushy mustache and sneakers, and if nerdish looks were any guide, looked like he should. He wrote his answer on a piece of paper, a scrawled “No.” It’s good to get the public excited, but the best way to do this is to actually do exciting things, not to have a deliberate strategy of public engagement that leaves lay audience members baffled in Orlando conference rooms.

    White is currently designing an experiment to test whether he can demonstrate a small gravity-distorting effect in the lab. “This is highly speculative physics. It may not have any basis in physical reality,” he cautioned. “Nobody get excited. It’s still very, very hard.” That was the line between the serious types and the crackpots—the serious types had crazy ideas, too; they just didn’t forget that their ideas were probably wrong. “You want to tackle the challenges that make your peers feel uneasy,” Millis says.

    Millis, White, and their colleagues are trying hard to strike a balance; they know they must be both audacious and methodical. Others at the conference weren’t trying as hard.

    On Sunday morning, the guys from Sol Seed (“Bringing Life Even Unto the Galaxy”) passed out fliers stating four rather ambitious, and divergent, goals. The first is to build an “eco-village community in Portland,” while the fourth is “contributing to the destiny of life: spreading beyond Earth to take root amongst the stars!” Surprisingly, though, only one guy ranted about UFOs. (“I’m not talking about the crazy people. I’m talking about solid military evidence, CIA, DIA.”) He left the room quietly when the panelists refused to engage him.

    Then there were those who weren’t crazy, but weren’t helpful, either. One presenter vaguely said that it would be good to be able to communicate faster than light. He was riveted by his own slides, which said, “This problem appears insoluble.” Toward the end, he mentioned the potential military application of his non-existent technology: It would work underwater. This is a bit like saying that if you were immortal, not having to worry about a long wait for a table at Applebee’s would be one of the important benefits.

    Tufts University’s Ken Olum had the biggest beard I saw at the conference, which is saying a lot. His beard goes around a big U along the whole of his head, giving him a sort of upside-down halo. He looks like I imagine an alchemist might. But he wouldn’t like that comparison. “We should not be alchemists,” he told the conference. “They wanted a goal and that’s what they thought about. After a while they were doing nothing useful. They were replaced by chemists who had the desire to learn about the world as it is, and not the desire to do some particular thing.”

    Speaking of misguided desires, a subsequent panel of science-fiction writers engaged in a long and pointless argument about the sociology of space colonies: It had all the substance and weight of a nuanced public policy debate, except that the dilemmas they were talking about were fictional.

    Michael Waltemathe, a young German academic with a pink tie, talked about religion and space colonization. Apollo 14, he told the audience, had taken 100 microfiche Bibles to the surface of the moon and back. This made him wonder how many bishops a space colony would have to take along to uphold apostolic succession. “Since I’m a Protestant,” he said, “I would take all of them.” That was the problem with a conference that deliberately tried to cultivate dreamers: They started planning the wedding before they’d even asked the girl out.

    As the symposium drew to a close, James Benford sounded a note of optimism with a hint of longing: “We’ve been asking how to build starships. If we can’t, the rest of the questions are moot. The answer, I think, is that we can.” No one expects more money from DARPA, or from NASA, but they really are convinced that change is coming. Outside the main session, I stood talking with Millis. He took out a recent article he wrote for the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society. There was a triptych of rockets: a NASA rocket, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip One, and SpaceX’s Falcon rocket.

    “Fail!” he exclaimed when he pointed to the NASA rocket. “We are at the threshold of a sociological change,” he said: Space is about to be opened up to private industry in a fundamentally new way. If industry lives up to the hopes of those assembled in Orlando, maybe the fastest human beings in history will soon be traveling toward something instead of back to Earth, like the Apollo 10 crew.

    Corrections, Oct. 6, 2011: This article originally mischaracterized Voyager 1 as the fastest man-made object. Voyager 1 is the fastest objet to travel outside of the solar system; the New Horizons probe is the fastest-ever man-made object. (Return to the corrected sentence.) This article originally misspelled the last name of John Cramer. (Return to the corrected sentence.) This article also originally misidentified Marc Millis as Michael Millis. (Return to the corrected sentence.)


  • ljk October 9, 2011, 17:10

    10/03/2011 11:04 PM

    100 Year Starship Symposium Considers Mankind’s Next Step

    By: Adam Balkin

    A recent symposium brought together some out-of-the-box thinkers to consider how mankind might move beyond Earth and into space. NY1’s Adam Balkin filed the following report.

    What will space travel be like 100 years from now? Where will people go, how will they get there and what should they do when they get there?

    To try and answer some of these difficult questions, NASA and DARPA have been running the 100 Year Starship Study, a public call to everyone from university professors to hobby physicists to science fiction writers to offer up their ideas.

    Many of those ideas were presented at the recent 100 Year Starship Symposium in Orlando, Florida.

    “How do we move the technologies and science and the motivation so that 100 years or more from now, we can start launching missions to another star?” said Harry Kloor of the 100 Year Starship Study.

    Among the key issues being looked at is the question of whether humans will be traveling to the stars or even living on them.

    “We work to try to take our space observations and see what the basis of life is. Could life exist anywhere else?” said Robert Stirbl of the NASA Jet Propulsion Lab.

    Even after just five minutes at the symposium, it’s clear to that most of the people present think far outside of the box.

    Full article here:


  • ljk October 9, 2011, 17:30


    Published by Gregory Benford on October 5th, 2011

    The 100 Year Starship Symposium was much like a science fiction convention, with solid content and a zest seldom seen. Held Sept. 30-Oct 2 in Orlando, it struck a strong note among the hundreds of attendees. I found it to be enormous fun.

    DARPA’s intention in sponsoring this was to spur research and select an organization that will sustain and develop interstellar ideas over the next century. More important, it strove to create a culture centered on human expansion into the solar system, and onward to the stars. A science fictional staple, yes—so it needed sf writers.

    Brother Jim and I had invited Steven Baxter, Elizabeth Bear, Geoffrey Landis, Robert Sawyer, Allen Steele, George Zebrowski, Joe Haldeman, Gerald Nordley, Charlie Stross and Vernor Vinge. We writers gave two panels moderated by Gay Haldeman before the ~1000 person crowd. Jim ran the biggest part of the tech program, propulsion.

    It was fun to see tech types recapitulate sf ideas – worldships, spacewarps, long lived societies, wormholes, intricacies of biology and aliens. They’re putting numbers on ideas we embodied in stories. One talk titled “Did Jesus die for Klingons too?” called our assumptions onto the galactic stage, quite wittily.

    Full article here:


  • ljk October 9, 2011, 17:34

    Nuclear power to the stars



    Posted: 01 October 2011

    To send spacecraft to other stars in the space of a human lifetime, new methods of propulsion are going to be needed to provide the necessary ‘oomph’ to break free of our Solar System. Currently the best bet is nuclear fusion power, but there’s a problem – it hasn’t even been shown to be a commercially viable source of energy on Earth yet.

    ‘Splitting the atom’ in the 1930s paved the way for modern day nuclear fission reactors, but nuclear fusion is a different and altogether far cleaner process. Rather than releasing binding energy of atoms energy by splitting them apart into lighter nuclei, fusion melds atomic nuclei together, but to so it is necessary to break though the electrostatic force, a fundamental repulsive force between two charged particles. To breach the electrostatic barrier high temperatures and pressures are required. The Sun’s core has a temperature of over 15 million degrees Celsius to generate energy by fusing hydrogen nuclei into helium.

    Nuclear fusion reactors on Earth basically have to match these conditions and, suffice to say, that isn’t easy. This is the challenge being faced not only by nuclear scientists worldwide, but also by those researchers of advanced spacecraft propulsion attending the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Orlando, Florida, this weekend.

    Full article here:


  • Athena Andreadis October 11, 2011, 1:21

    To Sean Brooks, an excerpt from my talk:

    “More crucially, gravity seems to play a role in embryo formation and in correct configuration of brain synapses. It will avail us little to go to another planet, if we cannot have children, propagate plants — or think straight.”

    That was part of my “sex in reduced gravity” point — but soundbites won out.

  • Sean M. Brooks October 11, 2011, 10:43

    Dear Professor Andreadis:

    Thank you for commenting. I did miss the bit about how gravity plays a necessary role in the development of an unborn child. And which will thus be necessary for successful reproduction off this Earth. In other words, Poul Anderson’s thoughts on this matter may well be vindicated. I would add that it seems reasonable to think SOME of the planets orbiting other stars will have gravity fields of the kind needed for successful human reproduction.

    Sincerely, Sean M. Brooks