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100 Year Starship Public Symposium

“The future never just happened, it was created.” The quote is from Will and Ariel Durant, the husband and wife team who collaborated on an eleven-volume history of civilization that always used to be included in Book of the Month deals, which is how many of us got our copies. I’m glad to see the Durants’ quotation brought into play by the 100 Year Starship organization in the service of energizing space exploration. It’s a call to create, to work, to push our ideas.

100 Year Starship (100YSS) puts the Durants’ thinking into practice at the second 100 Year Starship Public Symposium, September 13-16 at the Hyatt Regency in Houston. The event promises academic presentations, science fiction panels, workshops, classes and networking possibilities for those in the aerospace community and the public at large. My hope is that the gathering will kindle some of the same enthusiasm we saw last October in Orlando, when the grant from DARPA that created the 100 Year Starship had yet to be assigned and the halls of the Orlando Hilton filled up with starship aficionados. For more on the event, check the 100YSS symposium page.

Image: The track chair panel from last year’s symposium in Orlando. Credit: 100YSS.

DARPA (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) provided the seed money, but 100 Year Starship is now in the hands of Mae Jemison, whose Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence will develop the idea with partners Icarus Interstellar (the people behind Project Icarus, the re-envisioning of the Project Daedalus starship) and the Foundation for Enterprise Development. And as we’ve discussed before, the 100 Year Starship refers not to a century-long star mission but to an organization that can survive for a century to nurture the starship idea, the thinking being that a century from now we will have made major progress on the interstellar front. It’s a gutsy and optimistic time frame and I hope it’s proven right.

The upcoming symposium will take place the week of the 50th anniversary of president Kennedy’s famous speech at Rice University exhorting Americans to land on the Moon, so it’s fitting that former president Bill Clinton has agreed to serve as honorary chair for the event. “This important effort helps advance the knowledge and technologies required to explore space,” said Clinton, “all while generating the necessary tools that enhance our quality of life on Earth.” 100YSS is collaborating with Rice University to integrate activities, which will include a salute to fifty years of human space flight at the Johnson Space Center.

The goal is for a multidisciplinary gathering, as a 100YSS news release makes clear:

100 Year Starship will bring in experts from myriad fields to help achieve its goal — utilizing not only scientists, engineers, doctors, technologists, researchers, sociologists and computer experts, but also architects, writers, artists, entertainers and leaders in government, business, economics, ethics and public policy. 100YSS will also collaborate with existing space exploration and advocacy efforts from both private enterprise and the government. In addition, 100YSS will establish a scientific research institute, The Way, whose major emphasis will be speculative, long-term science and technology.

The 2012 symposium is titled ‘Transition to Transformation…The Journey Begins.’ According to the organization, the goals for the gathering include:

  • Identifying research directions and priorities
  • Understanding methods to assess, transform and deploy space-related technologies to improve daily life
  • Fostering ways to identify and integrate partnerships and partnering opportunities, social structures, cultural awareness and global momentum essential to the 100 year challenge

I see that three track chairs have already been announced. David Alexander (Rice University) will be in charge of a special session on Future Visions, while Eric Davis (Institute for Advanced Studies – Austin) is to be track chair for Time-Distance Solutions. Amy Millman (Springboard Enterprises) chairs a special session called Interstellar Aspiration – Commercial Perspiration. More news on the other track chairs and session topics and papers as it becomes available.

The opportunity before us is to keep the Durants’ quotation in mind: “The future never just happened, it was created.” It’s true on the level of civilizations and on the level of individuals. I’m hoping you can create the opportunity to make it to Houston to see how 100 Year Starship is evolving and to join the scientists, engineers, public policy experts, entertainers and the rest who will be focusing on the issues of interstellar flight. These go well beyond propulsion to include life support, robotics, economics, intelligent systems, communications and more. If it’s anything like last year’s event in Orlando, this second symposium should help move interstellar studies forward.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Jean-Pierre Le Rouzic August 15, 2012, 11:47

    I have the incredible chance that it’s possible for me attend the second meeting when I thought that it was a life time event for me last year to attend Orlando’s meeting with my wife. Now president Clinton is announced! That’s truly amazing!

    I hope that some concrete steps will be announced toward traveling to stars at Houston. I heard recently on radio, a CEO of a global company speaking of his interest in Solar sails for traveling to stars. Perhaps what’s is needed is emulation, like 50 years ago?

    Indeed if this happen we will have to also think of what to do after, to avoid being like NASA rushing during 8 years toward one of best of humankind achievements. and have no plan beyond it.


  • Christopher Phoenix August 15, 2012, 22:05

    It is really exciting to see that the discussion on interstellar flight is ongoing!! I can imagine that a century of effort will result in some major progress in the field of interstellar flight- but only if someone is actually doing the work. That is why it is important to keep the discussion going, to attract more interest, and to inspire young minds to work on starships.

  • James Jason Wentworth August 16, 2012, 2:53

    This long-term thinking for developing the technologies for interstellar travel (which can also develop commercially profitable “spin-off” technologies along the way) could be utilized as a vision and organizing principle for developing a solar system-wide civilization and industrial base here at home around our Sun; thinking of this as a pyramid, interstellar travel would be the “cap stone” that would be made possible by all of the other “stones” (technological and economic developments) supporting it. Also:

    Unlike the pyramids on Earth, this conceptual pyramid would not be just an impressive monument, as each “stone” would be one technological/economic development (or one set of several such related developments) that would be of economic benefit in its own right (as the asteroid mining company Planetary Resources is planning to do at each step of their business development plan–each step is being designed to make money by itself). This pyramid concept is not a central plan, but a guiding principle, as there will be failures along the way, as well as useful–both immediately as well as in the longer term–serendipidous discoveries that no one will have expected. As with the space program to date, many of these discoveries (and technological “spin-offs”) will be useful and profitable in sectors that are very far removed from space flight. In addition:

    This grand venture can be advocated, not in “carrot and stick” terms, but in “cosmic lemons to celestial lemonade” terms. The asteroids and comets–some of them–are grave existential threats to life on Earth, but they are also the building materials, agricultural and industrial supplies, and energy resources for a future whose potential greatness–here on Earth as well as in space–we can scarcely envision today. Developing the means to deal with the threatening ones will also help to enable us to make use of their resources, a “Win, Win” situation all around.

  • Greg Parris August 16, 2012, 12:45

    Based on some of the numbers that we have generated in previous posts on the power requirements for interstellar travel (for big objects, like humans) it seems likely that we will need to achieve a Kardashev type 2 (between 1.5 and 2) status in order to become a star faring civilization.

    It would be very interesting to see a rough cut technology roadmap for getting from K0.7 to K1.75 with a focus on each step along the way being profitable. Government funding will only take us so far. However, focusing on fundamental science (i.e. materials science) is something the government can do.

    Rapid developments require the fundamental building blocks to be available for engineers to do their work. The industrial revolution required steam power which required steel. The space race required light weight materials like aluminum alloys and composite materials. The computer revolution required microprocessors which required silicon semiconductor material. Engineers and business people will take the materials at hand and develop them to their fullest. The more material science that is stacked up, the more rapid will be development of applications.

    Unfortunately, power production related material science has slowed. Not all technological development follows Moore’s law. To the contrary, power costs are rising per kwh with time. In the last quarter of the last century we took our eye off the ball in energy related materials science. Anything that is power intensive (like space flight) is going to benefit from materials science improvements.

    This is a small example of what I mean by a technology roadmap. I hope the 100YSS program will facilitate a focus on the most important fundamental science. Without a relentless drumbeat of material science improvement, we are going to be stuck on this rock for a long time to come.

  • advanced space propeller August 17, 2012, 4:01

    this is great, it s about time to do this, we are actually late to develop a useful technological platform to go into deep space. or who knows what s been developed in special access programs in the past?? ;) …