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Tau Zero: The Steps Ahead

by Marc Millis

Recently I asked you, our readership, what you want from an interstellar organization, given the emergence of Kelvin Long’s Interstellar Institute and the pending symposium of the 100 Year Starship Organization. How to sort out which organization does what? I suspect that the 100YSS will start inviting memberships (fee-based) at their Sept 13-16 symposium. Unfortunately, we will not be able to launch our new Tau Zero website until after that, in October, at which time we will finally be able to take on members (yes, it has been a long arduous process). Then you can see exactly what we have accomplished beyond our continuing Centauri Dreams news forum. I have no idea if Icarus Interstellar or the others will invite memberships around that time too. All of us have been open for donations for some time.

To put the available support into context, I did a little hunting to estimate the total funds that have been contributed to all of our uniquely interstellar organizations (does not include the British Interplanetary Society, Planetary Society, etc.). To date, and if my hunting is reliable, the combined contributions to all our organizations total less than $100k. This, of course, does not include the $500k from DARPA to Mae Jemison’s 100 Year Starship organization. Thus, short of having a substantial increase in funding, there is not much to go around for one organization, let alone a handfull of them.


I compiled and edited your answers about what you want from an interstellar organization, plus some subsequent discussions for your contemplation and feedback. I did include the answers posted from other organizations, where they listed the services they are offering. I did not include ‘motherhood’ statements which are more about subjective consequences (e.g. “bold & inspiring”) than actionable work.

(1) Promotion and Fund Raising. The distinctions between “promotional” and “enabling,” functions, and “a driver for interstellar flight,” were raised, with the further suggestion that different organizations take on different functions. The suggestion included a recommendation that Tau Zero pursue only the “enabling” functions.

(2) Information: A common theme from the majority of answers, was to have easy access to the most relevant and reliable information. This includes:

— Free (or at least low-cost) journal of interstellar issues and progress (peer-reviewed), the one, go–to, source of emerging information. This includes more than just spacecraft ideas. It should also cover societal implications and the effects of ancillary developments (such as extended human life spans, hibernation, artificial intelligence, and trans-humanism, energy prowess, extinction hazard probabilities, etc.).

— Anthologies that compile the best papers of the past (again covering the full span of relevant topics).

— Detailed books on the key technology options, at a level of detail where the assertions from various studies can be checked against reliable information.

(3) Guiding Scenarios: To provide some context for “how do we get from today to the era of star flight?,” create hypothetical scenarios of the events (technical and societal) that would eventually lead to interstellar missions. There is more than one scenario to create:

— Extrapolating the present rate of progress (technical and societal) till the first mission. Note: Three different studies estimate 2-centuries in this scenario.

— Responding to an impending threat to humanity’s survival.

— Possible technological progress if money and societal support were not limits.

— Implications from the discovery of propulsion physics breakthroughs.

(4) Making Progress: When it comes to making progress (given the information, above, is available), the following statements were made:

— Staged progress where approaches at different levels of technical maturity are treated differently. Where technological progress is nearing implementation, conduct detailed system-level analyses that could lead to implementation plans. For items needing laboratory verification, perform experiments. Items whose feasibility is still uncertain should be treated as basic research, but where it is desired to present some sort of estimate of their viability.

— Want to see “concrete achievements,” not just plans.

— Want “well led projects,” not just visionaries (I’m not sure exactly what is meant here, since I can interpret the statement in more than one way).

— Educational opportunities (many variations on this possible).

— Conducting Mission-Vehicle Studies [The prime activity of Icarus Interstellar]

— Funding individual proposals with clear selection criteria.

(5) Institutes: Both Mae Jemison, of the 100 Year Starship organization, and Kelvin Long each want their own interstellar Institutes. How will they determine who to involve, and how will they get those people to relocate to their central institute? How many people would this involve? How much will it cost? Would its higher costs pull resources away from all the other activities to become the only activity? What services will these institutions offer for the rest of us (those who are not in the institute)?

(6) Symposia and Workshops: Although this was not mentioned in the comments, it has been discussed before. What I would like to hear from our readership is: How frequently do you want them? What do you want to get out of such events? Do you want presentations to be pre-filtered to ensure quality, or do you want full openness? Is it worth having symposia if no potential sponsors are in the audience? How much of a registration fee are you willing to pay?

(7) Inclusivity and Participation: The notion of letting a broad audience participate is a recurring theme. The challenge includes finding worthy tasks for the various skill levels of our audience, and then gleaning the progress made.


The following estimates are based on my experiences at NASA and on lessons learned in the course of creating the Tau Zero Foundation. Your mileage might vary. I’m providing these estimates to give you and idea of the relative difficulty of these tasks, and so you will know how much funding any organization will need before being able to offer such services.

(1) Promotion and Fund Raising. For nonprofit organization, a common advice is to allocate 20% of your total funds to fundraising. In other words, if the organization needs $80k to perform its duties, you need $20k just to raise $100k of funding. I have only started to learn about nonprofit fundraising since 2010, and still have a lot to learn. Prior to that, my NASA affiliation made it illegal for me to raise funds actively for Tau Zero.

(2) Information: With our network of practitioners, this is the primary function that Tau Zero has been doing, so our estimates here are fairly accurate:

Centauri Dreams news forum: This is virtually a full-time job for one person [Paul Gilster], plus it relies on several knowledgeable volunteers to scout for meaningful source material. On this I must share that I am impressed with how much information Paul can process and how frequently he can write. I’m not sure what it would take to provide this service if starting over from scratch.

Social Network Presence: Here are some of the social networks that Tau Zero has been able to keep up, due to the continuing volunteer services of Larry Klaes. This does not require a full-time position, but it is definitely a serious commitment. My thanks to Larry for helping spread our news via these other organizations:

Interstellar Travel (Tau Zero Fan Page)

Icarus Interstellar

Project Hyperion (an Icarus Interstellar project)

Passionate Universe

Space-Time Travel

Paul Gilster also maintains a Twitter presence as @centauri_dreams.

Interstellar Journal (free or at least low-cost) (peer-reviewed): Right now, we’ve been relying mostly on the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society since it already exists and has the staff to perform the required functions. If you have access to a university library which carries this journal, you can visit and read articles without having to pay the annual subscription.

To create a new journal would require at least one full-time editor/manager, a staff of part-time help to process submissions through review, revisions, and properly formatted and copyright manuscripts (and maintain the website), and a network of willing & able reviewers who do not have conflicts of interest about what they are reviewing. A rough dollar estimate to provide such a ‘free’ and quality journal would be about $200k annually.

In my personal experience, the hardest part about doing this (even with ample volunteers) is to find qualified reviewers without conflicts of interest. The interstellar community is still relatively small, and although there are many enthusiasts, most of those are not fully qualified. The number of qualified reviewers is small enough that most already know each others’ works and often have conflicts of interest. A double-blind review might solve the conflict of interest problem, but again, since the community is small, it is pretty easy to guess whose paper you are reviewing. Other qualified reviewers could be drawn in from related fields, but we would probably have to offer a small honoraria to get them to review papers that are not within their fields of interest.

Anthologies that compile the best papers of the past (again covering the full span of relevant topics). As much as I like this idea and would like to see it happen, the challenge again is finding the people who are qualified and impartial that will, indeed, pick the “best” papers, not just their favorite papers. Right now, this is happening only when individuals in our community have enough passion, time, and material to work from. I applaud those who have done, or are attempting such work.

Detailed books on the key technology options: To assemble a book at this level is a 2-3 year endeavor requiring at least ½ time lead editor, plus a team of authors who can write the detailed chapters spanning the topic. Since this function can fall within the scope of a researcher’s day job, there is a possibility of getting such books written with only minor funding.

The difficulty we have found is to find enough willing experts to write impartial and instructive material amidst the more common advocacy papers. Also, I am encountering difficulty when discussing books with publishers since many seem to be waiting for the electronic rights issues to be resolved first… or so that is what I’m hearing.

Library of open technical problems that need to be solved: I like this idea so much that we’ve already been working into on our new Tau Zero website. The challenge here is distilling the key issues from all the literature, and then categorizing them so that it is easy for a newcomer to find what they are looking for. Right now, we have a backlog of notes and references that will still take hours of labor to go through, convert, and post into our list. This is something suitable for volunteers at the skill level of undergraduate students.

Library of reference missions: I like this idea too, and know that Icarus Interstellar is creating these. What I do not know yet – and this gets back to the journal and review challenges –is the level of fidelity and impartiality of those mission/vehicle reports. Historically, before Icarus, there was a tendency in our community to devise mission and vehicle studies to promote a preconceived solution, rather than conducting a requirements-driven, system-level study that is not biased by a favorite power or propulsion option. Such biases are just human nature and are quite common in many fields — Freeman Dyson calls this the ‘Problem of Premature Choice.’ A mitigating strategy to this “premature choice” phenomenon, absent of a team of unbiased, qualified reviewers, is to (1) take all of these studies with a healthy dose of skepticism, and (2) focus on the weakest link of their system to identify what problems still need to be solved (It is common in prior studies to skimp on the assessment of realistic heat rejection and realistic magnetic nozzles). In other words, convert their weakest links into key, next-step tasks… and make progress on those tasks.

(3) Guiding Scenarios: I really like this idea. I will find a way, when we can, to work this into Tau Zero’s activities. This was not already a part of our plans. Off the cuff, I would imagine needing some discussions amongst of our sci-fi authors to kick around possibilities, and then volunteers to distill those discussions into hypothetical scenarios. Each scenario will likely require the same level of effort as a journal paper, but with less rigor, since it is only a prediction. Another option is to run a contest to invite scenarios from our readership. The challenge in that case would be to assemble the review team, support staff, and lead. Provided we had a lead, I consider this a feasible low-cost, mostly volunteer effort. Again, considering that these scenarios will be attempts to predict the future, they should be taken as possibilities, rather than definitive plans.

(4) Making Progress: This is the other area where I’ve aimed Tau Zero to support. Right now, absent of funding to support research, all the progress being made is from our community, where those individuals take on the work themselves to make progress in their area of specialty. At Tau Zero we have been able to forge collaborations to avoid redundancy and to fill niches so that these individual works will have more impact overall. Considering the number of non-redundant and relevant publications that have been forthcoming (technical, science-fiction, journalistic, and artistic), I think our community is doing well. I would like to think that Tau Zero has boosted this, but there is no way to measure it. For example, I have no idea if David Brin’s new novel, Existence, (science-fiction that touches on many issues raised by Tau Zero), was influenced by Tau Zero. Brin is in our network or practitioners, but I’ve not discussed this with him.

When it comes to progress, the other tactic Tau Zero promotes (in addition to the cited collaboration, above), is to focus on the next-step detailed questions instead of advocating a particular solution. This is where Tau Zero differs from others in the community. Several others want to promote their solution and get that solution funded at levels sufficient to launch missions. This includes solar sails, beamed energy sails, nuclear rockets, and nuclear fusion rockets. It is my personal and professional opinion that (1) There is not yet enough prospective funding to support this strategy (requires at least 10’s of millions for any real implementation progress), and (2) It is premature to down select to ‘the’ solution until after we have a more accurate definition of the problem, requirements, and promising technical options.

Regarding educational opportunities, we are collaborating with the Ohio Aerospace Institute to set up graduate student projects, where the student, university, and Tau Zero collaborate to purse a grant for that student to work on a challenge within Tau Zero’s interest. More on this as it develops. To really pull this off would require $500k annually, but we are first seeing what we can do on crumbs.

If there were enough funding to sponsor targeted research, here is how Tau Zero would handle it. In prior estimates, we concluded that a reasonable annual budget to sponsor a research solicitations would be $6M:

— Convene a team of sponsors and practitioners to devise and agree on selection criteria.

— Invite proposals for short-duration tasks (1-3yrs duration) and rank them per the selection criteria just devised.

— To the limit of available funding, select a suite of divergent options from the top-scoring set. By “divergent” I mean that different approaches are supported (diversified portfolio) rather than having all the research cover the same approach.

— Host a symposium to review the findings when that research is done, and refine the next solicitation based on the lessons learned from the prior findings and symposium.

— Repeat that process until enough viable technology has accrued to make interstellar missions possible within the constraints of society’s available support.

(5) Institutes: It has been my experience from watching the creation and fate of other institutes that institutes do more to serve their founders than to serve the community. Regardless, this function still faces the challenges of being able to recruit and successfully manage a fitting team. Rough cost estimates for this sort of approach – absent of the actual research – is about $1-2M annually. Typically, the ‘faculty’ of such institutes are then required to seek additional grants from other sources for the actual topic progress.

Furthermore, it is my professional opinion that the skill set to answer the challenges of interstellar flight are still too fledgling to merge into one institute. Star flight is more than just the vehicle and propulsion. It includes the societal factors, and consideration of a number of specialties that are still emerging, such as synthetic biology, transhumanism, and the pending ‘singularity’ of artificial intelligence. It is because of this widespread and fledgling nature that Tau Zero is pursuing the graduate project idea that is open to all universities.

(6) Symposia and Workshops: This is a necessary function to regularly inform the community of progress, provide opportunities for face-to-face interactions, and invite new participants. Given how long it takes to create new content, It is my professional opinion that symposia should be spread 2 to 3 years apart. The actual costs of hosting a symposium can vary dramatically based on sponsorships, registration fees, and attendance. As a minimum, it requires the full time labor of 2 people for at least a year to assemble a meaningful event.

Due to the difficulty of finding that labor and the over-abundance of symposia and conferences at which interstellar work can be discussed, Tau Zero has no plans to conduct workshops. Instead, we will participate in others’ events as able.

(7) Inclusivity and Participation: The challenge includes finding worthy tasks for the various skill levels of our audience. The discussion forum in Centauri dreams gives our readership the opportunity to participate in discussions. These discussions are moderated to filter out inappropriate comments. The next level of participation is volunteer help. I already have more offers for volunteer help than I can manage. It requires a lot of work to create, assign, and then utilize volunteer tasks. If any of you are willing to manage our Tau Zero pool of volunteers ( ≈ 4-dozen) and are willing to do this as a volunteer for a while, please let me know. This is a job that requires people skills, not engineering or science.


To refresh your memory, my cohorts and I founded Tau Zero to find and forge collaborations amongst genuine pioneers and then share that progress broadly via Centauri Dreams and other publications. Rather than advocating specific vehicles, technologies, or missions, we want to find and encourage progress over the span of options. We also want to make sure we have a realistic set of requirements and constrains (i.e. understanding the problem) before devising ‘the’ solution. Our progress is largely based on the work of our network of practitioners; scientists, engineers, educators, writers, and artists, who work on these topics on their own, but collaborate via Tau Zero to avoid duplication of effort and to find the needed skill mix. In the near future we will debut our new “Discovery Log” – a repository of facts related to interstellar flight, covering these categories:

– Humanity’s Journey

– Destinations

– Getting there.

The services we offer will be articulated in that new website, along with the opportunity to become “members” whose fees grant members access to exclusive information and discounts on Foundation merchandise.

There have been some overtures between some of the organizations to collaborate, to at least avoid redundancy. To help all of these organizations serve you, please add your comments in the discussions. Are these activities what you really want? Which of these do you want first, and most? Which do you think will result in the most progress considering the limited funding? Offer suggestions for where to get the funds and support to your most desired functions.

Ad Astra Incrementis,

Marc Millis


Customer Feedback from the Discussions

Marc Millis August 10, 2012 at 13:43
“Who do ya call?” Dear readers, Are getting confused as to who is doing what and why there is a proliferation of interstellar flight groups?
– British Interplanetary Society
– Tau Zero Foundation w/ Centauri Dreams
– Peregrinus Interstellar
– Icarus Interstellar
– 100 Year Starship Organization, and now..
– Institute for Interstellar Studies.
Rather than advocate our own, I want to take this opportunity to ask YOU, our readership: What do YOU want an interstellar organization to do? And when answering, keep in mind that none of these groups has “serious” money. The bulk of work is till subsidized by volunteered labors of love.

Tell us, all of us, Where are your preferences? What services do you need?

Bob Steinke August 10, 2012 at 15:14
I think one valuable thing that interstellar organizations could do is build up a library of reference mission designs and open technical problems.
Beyond that, if there is any preliminary experimental work that is within their capabilities like the Planetary Society’s work on solar sails.

Interstellar Bill August 10, 2012 at 20:46
We need advanced, graduate-level textbooks on each propulsion option
1. Laser sail
2. Advanced Ion
3. Nuclear Electricity for Space (every non-fusion method from radio isotopes to full scale fission reactors
4. Fusion
We also need anthologies of already-published, specialized interstellar papers. Both IEEE and BIS could alone do great anthologies.
A textbook with one chapter each on these is far too introductory for the dear readers of this blog.

Greg August 10, 2012 at 23:47
“What do YOU want an interstellar organization to do? And when answering, keep in mind that none of these groups has “serious” money. ”
Excellent question Marc, personally I would like to see a staged approach analysis to possible interstellar propulsion solutions. I think if a site could show a stage 1 analysis of possible technologies as well as theoretical physics giving its likelihood between a 1 and 10, 1 being next to impossible 10 being highly likely. It would simply be a group of researchers giving their best guess or analysis of a technology/theory and if it would be feasible or not.
An example is this article on the Giant Casimir effect,
using meta-materials to possibly amplify the Casimir effect. Between 1 and 10 what is the likelihood this is a possibility and if this could be worth pursuing as a means for energy production or propulsion for interstellar travel.
Stage 2 could be a more detailed analysis of technologies. With stage 3 possibly moving to testing in a lab.
It would be nice to cut through the impossible stuff and speaking for myself, see what may get through.

Jean-Pierre Le Rouzic August 11, 2012 at 6:22
To contribute with my own answer to Marc’s question: What I wait from an organization is any concrete achievement, even if small. Like Bob Steinke, I found Planetary society’s solar sail design and launch attempts to have lots of merits. If someone wants to search (as Paul proves daily) there are valuable scientific papers, but for every good paper there are tons of s**t papers, often using arcane physics concepts to propose what is basically perpetual movement machines. There are already many students that are interested by interstellar concepts (f.e. see what F. Loup did). What we need is not visionaries, there are already some very impressive people and it’s good to talk about them, but we now need project leaders with common sense and attention to details and engineers. We need people able to understand that to build interstellar probes, we have to demonstrate concepts validity and how it could be useful by some aspect to humanity in short term.

Marc: What you can do without money is set a call for realistic interstellar proposals with positive impact on today’s life, with a team of volunteers to select a few very interested works with clear selection criterion. You don’t need to propose a price to recruit volunteers and contributors, many organisations only propose fame and it works (IEEE/Arthur B. Guise Medal (fire protection engineers)). Some even do not propose fame (scouts).

Astronist August 11, 2012 at 10:10
Marc Millis wrote: “What do YOU want an interstellar organization to do?”
To my mind, possibly the most urgent task is to develop and publicise a scenario in which we actually get to do interstellar travel, starting from the present day. Why urgent? Imagine that we start discussing interstellar travel with a member of the large majority of people who are not, for whatever reason, excited by the prospect. What will be on their minds? Overpopulation: we must reduce the world’s population. Climate change: we must give up an energy-intensive lifestyle (see Tom Murphy’s “Do the Math” blog for a diet of pessimism on this point, thus directly contradicting any chance of a starfaring future, given the enormous energy demands of interstellar travel). World hunger: we must abandon spaceflight and spend the money on feeding the poor instead. Militarism: we must abandon spaceflight because all it’s doing is spreading evil American militarism and greedy anti-human capitalism into space (the position of the Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space, and of its sociologist supporters who came to talk at the BIS a couple of years ago).

In other words, I detect a general mood of antipathy towards the value system of growth and progress, which would basically shut down space technology and economic growth if it could, and impose a competing value system based on values of being contented with what one already has and renouncing the accumulation of more material possessions, as well as halting progress towards such things as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotech.

Clearly, the market is on our side: people generally place a higher value on their comfort and on having the latest gadget than on ideology, particularly self-effacing ideology, and the market is great at driving forward economic and technological progress. But I still think we would be well advised to put at the heart of our message to the broader world a reasoned explanation of why growth and progress are still good, why their benefits outweigh their risks, why climate change, peak oil and nanotech are not about to destroy us, and why the interstellar enterprise is not merely a juvenile-minded hobby that we happen to want to indulge in at everyone else’s cost, but the logical result of the growth of civilisation in a way which benefits everybody.
Oxford, UK

Kelvin F. Long August 11, 2012 at 12:54
Marc Millis wrote:
“…Rather than advocate our own, I want to take this opportunity to ask YOU, our readership: What do YOU want an interstellar organization to do? ”

My top five answers:

1. Demonstrate both theoretical and experimental progress towards the long term vision, utilizing rigorous scientific techniques, across the spectrum of options, producing tangible benefits and real technologies.

2. Demonstrate inspired leadership, good mangement and governance in an open, transparent and responsible way.

3. Initiate bold and exciting projects and programs which inspire the world, swell our numbers, and produce more reliable studies.

4. Work together, co-operatively and co-ordinatively, for common purpose, shared ambitions and increased national and international impact, in a way that rises above politics and human behaviours.

5. Break down barriers to participation, knowledge, and belief in the seemingly impossible, by the creation and facilitation of opportunity through education and outreach, using positive-optimistic motivation.

Kelvin F. Long

Jack Crawford August 11, 2012 at 15:51
At this early juncture I think Tau Zero needs to differentiate between being a promoter, an enabler, and a driver of interstellar flight. Of these three things I think acting as an enabler is the easiest to do on a tight budget because it can be done by volunteers as a labor of love while research and public awareness cost money. As an enabler, Tau Zero’s role is to act as a compiler and distributor of knowledge. By acting as a venue for the exchange of information, such as a a free peer reviewed online journal, the Tau Zero Foundation can be a safe haven for scholarly writing, review papers, and general education.

Currently, the literature for interstellar studies is greatly scattered which makes finding and following the literature trail difficult. This impedes research. Review papers can address this and another problem: the academic pay wall to information. Think of the audacity of having to pay $80 for a 10 page paper on the subject you are interested in only to find the paper doesn’t deliver what the abstract says was in the paper. This is our enemy: inaccessible and poor quality information. Help from academia is not coming any time soon so the burden for progressing interstellar studies is on the citizen scientist and engineer, but someone has to give them the tools to succeed. Tau Zero can do this. Important but obscure information can be compiled and rewritten for public consumption. Code for common numerical calculations can be made freely available. Scholarly articles can be held to a higher standard. Proper education articles aimed at the armchair enthusiast can also be written. All you need are volunteers to write and some editors.

~ Jack Crawford

spaceman August 12, 2012 at 3:08
The aforementioned interstellar organizations will– certainly in a more realistic manner than does the film industry– definitely go along way as it pertains to keeping the grand goal of crossing the light years alive. Assuredly, new ideas will originate from these groups and existing ideas will be further refined as technology advances.

As a lover of puzzles, I would like to see the interstellar dream presented as the ultimate puzzle– a puzzle that combines several branches of science both natural and social. So geniuses put down your NYTimes Saturday crossword, which of you has what it takes to crack this one? What could be more challenging and exciting, more important in terms of ensuring human species survival than solving this intricate conundrum of epic proportions?

But it’s like what a friendly fellow at a recent singles party said to me: “When I was your age I used to think that if I waited around it would all fall into place. The right woman would just enter my life…but that’s unlikely. You have to get out there and do the hard work of finding her.”

How true. I can and do imagine her. I think about the pros and cons of getting involved with her, but at the end of the day I know the imagining will only get me so far. He’s right, I have to get out there more and test the waters. Same is the case with interstellar societies…they are a great resource for thinking about, for example, which candidate propulsion systems might work best as well as other aspects of deep spaceflight. Imaginative interstellar groups are crucially important in terms of developing ideas on how it might be possible to effectively span the immense interstellar gulf, but eventually they—like me, will have to get out there and test/implement the ideas in the real world.

Ric August 13, 2012 at 4:10
Seems to me that the Interstellar Institute already exists: Zero Tau. So why not slightly expand the scope of the Zero Tau website and merge the Intersteller Institute topics into it?

Adam Crowl August 13, 2012 at 7:29
An interstellar organisation with the aim of achieving interstellar flight needs to look at the many propulsion suggestions made over time and the broader pre-conditions needed to make the various scenarios happen. For example, what kind of society can make a large multi-stage fusion-propelled probe happen? What economic pathway will make that feasible? And how will it transform life for the rest of humanity?

Or what would lead to huge multi-terawatt lasers able to push sail-craft to half the speed of light? Would powering such devices lead to abundant solar-power systems for human-kind?

Being able to live in space for decades at a time would have implications for recycling and food-processing in a multitude of ways, surely a vital concern on a crowded Earth. By promoting development of minaturised industry, food-production, medical facilities and scientific equipment – all applicable to humans thriving in other star-systems – then we’d be sparking unimaginable leaps forward for everyday life on Earth.

Kick-starting the economic infrastructure needed to develop the solar-system will be another area for the interstellar organisation. For example, Philip Metzger (and his NASA colleagues) have some interesting proposals for boot-strapping space-industry via the Moon’s resources.
Well worth exploring further the whole idea of teleoperated, semi-self-replicating remote facilities on the Moon.

What we need to do is get away from the vision of the one-shot effort. Interstellar involves everyone and could well transform the world.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Kelvin F. Long August 31, 2012, 13:03

    Dear Marc,
    Thank you for your comprehensive analysis on the status of interstellar research and organizations, which is appreciated. I would firstly like to respond as the Editor of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.

    It is true that JBIS has been the main journal serving the interstellar community for many years. JBIS was first published in 1934 and is the oldest astronautical journal in the world. It published the first technical paper on interstellar that I am aware of, Interstellar Flight, By Dr Les Shepherd in 1952. It also hosted the excellent ‘red cover’ issues between 1974 – 1991. I think JBIS has been the ‘torch bearer’ of the interstellar vision for many decades and serving an international community well.

    That said in recent times it let its readership down by falling behind schedule. Significant efforts have gone into improving the journal over the last 1.5 years and it is now fully on track for recovery. This also includes getting the journal into the modern age and we now have a JBIS online web site here:


    You can even purchase papers and see the abstracts. However, it’s a big job and there are probably around ten thousand papers to get online, so not all the papers will be available overnight. But, the journal is getting modernised and we are even looking at electronic only versions.

    Regarding the cost of running the journal. It may be a surprise to many, but as Editor I do not receive any payments for the journal. Neither do any of the other Editors. We are all 100% volunteer. It takes a significant amount of effort, and several evenings a week to keep the journal going, but we do it out of our dedication for the exploration of space. It is not that we wouldn’t like to be compensated for some of this valuable time spent away from our families, but the society that runs the journal, the BIS, simply could not afford it. So the assessments you make for man hours in setting up a new journal and the requirements for large funding are not reflected in the one model that already exists. There is a simple value to compensate for available finance, human kindness and dedication to duty.

    Best wishes
    Editor JBIS

  • Kelvin F. Long August 31, 2012, 13:16

    Dear Marc,
    I would now like to respond to you as the Director of the nascent Institute for Interstellar Studies. Firstly, I am very pleased to hear of the pending progress of the Tau Zero Foundation, in regards to a new web site and a membership. This is great news and I hope the Foundation benefits from this long awaited goal. The Tau Zero Foundation is an excellent organization with inspiring and well thought through visions. I look forward to seeing those articulated into practical plans in the coming months and years. As a Practitioner, I will continue to serve the Foundation in whatever capacity I can. Centauri Dreams, continues to remain the central communications hub for the interstellar communicaty and if there were such thing as medals in our subject, Paul Gilster would have received one with honours for his dedication and the quality of work he produces, long ago.

    I have been working within the ‘interstellar community’ since 2007. I have been a Practitioner of Tau Zero Foundation, The main founder (and creator) behind Project Icarus with Dr Richard Obousy, Vice President and co-founder of Icarus Interstellar with others, including and especially Dr Richard Obousy and Dr Andreas Tziolas, to name a few. I was part of the team that won the 100 Year Starship competition, a bid led by Dr Mae Jemison, a former astronaut. I have also been very involved with the British Interplanetary Society in that time, organising symposia on warp drives, world ships, Daedalus, Icarus, to name a few. I have studied the subject in my own time with humility, with still many gaps in my own knowledge (the subject is very large). I wrote a text book on the subject simply to “teach myself the broad subject”. I have got to know 90% of the authors globally who have conducted credible research into interstellar flight over that time. I am now founding the Institute for Interstellar Studies in order to drive through my own unique approach and vision for catalysing interstellar flight. What has this experience taught me

    I think there are many well meaning people in this subject who share in the same bold and daring ambitions. We want to see the solar system explored. We want to send probes to other star systems. We want to see humans go past the solar heliosphere and one day, pass the Oort cloud and head towards those distant worlds circling those sea of Suns which seem so far. So, our origin is the same, Earth and usually a scientific education, our destination is the same. But, the approaches adopted by would be ‘pioneers’ is not the same. How come? Imagine a forest before us, one person wants to go down into the valley to get to the other side. The other person wants to go up the hill and around to get to the other side. We are all human, driven by our emotional hopes, fears, desires, defects, inadequacies, skills, knowledge, competence, confidence….this means we all have different ideas about the ‘road to the stars’, and this should come as no surprise – considering we are simply human beings with our own unique strengths of character and life experiences behind us. Now, it should be that we can all say, lets sit down and discuss our different pathways in shared joy and excitement, compare and contrast. But what tends to happen, in my experience, is human emotion and passion gets in the way. Person A believes his approach is better than person B. Person C thinks there is no point looking at propulsion options D, E and F because option G can only be the right one. This is human irrationality getting in the way of progress. It is not constructive, not helpful and does not advance our shared cause. Somehow, despite any differences between so called ‘pioneers’ they must find common ground. They must harmonise their differences and see them as strengths to build upon and use them as tools in our battle to win the stars. Some are better as manages others are not. Some are betters as leaders, others are not. Some are better as scientists, others are not. Some are better as public communicators, others are not. Some are better at effecting government policy, others are not. Some are better at building commercial opportunities, others are not…….But it doesn’t matter, if all these people work together, all these organizations work together. If there is a specific skill that is needed at any particular time, one of the groups has it and all can utilise it, if they work together. It is CO-OPERATION that is missing from the interstellar field, and a willingness to try. This is the only way we will go from a fractured community, to a cohesive one, whilst still preserving our organizational and personal independence, because that is also our strength.

    Marc, you are right to point out that many interstellar organizations have sprung up. The British Interplanetary Society (1933), Tau Zero (2006), Perigrinus Interstellar (?), Icarus Interstellar (2011), 100 Year Starship (2012?), The Institute for Interstellar Studies (2012). These all have good promise and the potential to make a positive effect on our lifes and our ambitions. I will also say Marc that you were one of the first. You are a pioneer who should be listened to:

    Vision 21 (1990 – 1994)
    Interstellar Propulsion Society (1995)
    NASA Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project (1996-2002)
    Tau Zero Foundation (2006?)

    But here is the thing, if all of these potentially excellent interstellar organizations really place the vision of interstellar flight above their own personal or organizational interests, then there is a nice simple test to determine if this character is genuine or pretense for the sake of self-interest.

    I propose a congress in 2013 with 2-3 representatives from each of these interstellar organizations, to discuss the following:
    (1) Our shared visions, goals, missions, differences in approach.
    (2) Opportunities for collaboration, alliance of programs, utilization of each others resources, improved methods of communicating.
    (3) An agreed global strategy to leverage the capacity of each organization to achieve a wider short, medium, long term goal together, that is aimed at the interstellar vision.

    If those organizations do not rise to such a challenge, then actions speak louder than words. If the readers of Centauri Dreams never hear of such a meeting taking place next year, then they knew the answer to this test. It is all very well expressing concern for the emergence of similar organizations, but it is not enough to simply say “how will they determine who to involve” – make that approach yourself and propose how the organizations can co-operate. This is the only way progress will be made, if everyone tries to make the attempt. The Institute for Interstellar Studies, is one of the youngest of these organizations, yet as will be shown when our web site goes live, we have made tremendous progress. Our aim, in the Institute, is to make that progress for all of us and not for personal or organizational self-interest, to advance all of our missions; “to the stars” – that is all that matters and we can all at least agree on that short sentence. Use that as the basis of a new beginning, where we seek to work co-operatively together. The invitation is hereby made and I look forward to that 2013 meeting, should it ever happen.

    Best wishes
    Kelvin F. Long
    Executive Director Institute for Interstellar Studies

  • JohnHunt August 31, 2012, 17:39

    I apparently missed the survey. My perspective is that we need a single membership organization called the (maybe International) Interstellar Society which would also have the preeminant interstellar journal. However, there should be a separate foundation which would fund interstellar project from different organizations / individuals. I think that the Tau Zero Foundation is not the right organization to do this. There was too little transparency at its beginning, decisions set early on without broad input, questionable assumptions, an apparent bias towards exotic physics, and little apparent progress over time. We need to start a new foundation from scratch, IMO. One assumption is ad Astra incrementis. This is not necessarily true. For example, the Mercury / Gemini / Apollo programs were a very directed program. Had they tried to incrementally progress from X-15 to the Moon eventually, we might still not be there. We must figure out the most likely first possible true mission architecture and then work back from that (First Mission Principle) otherwise the actual first mission could be deprive of expert resources for years developing technologies which have no relevance to be actual first mission.

    I think that there should be an institute that would organize work towards the development of the first true interstellar mission. Icarus Interstellar is doing a good job of doing this except that it should have been more transparent in its beginning. Decisions were made which set the direction for years and directed resources for years but did not have broad input from the interstellar community including non-professional members. So there should be a very close working relationship between the Institute and the Society.

    I also wish that there were a formal method to allow novel ideas to get an objective hearing. There are many ideas which are assumed but no formal way to fact check and for better but not so popular ideas to be able to gain recognition based upon their own merit. Beamed propulsion vs fusion is, I believe, one example. But there are others.

  • JohnHunt August 31, 2012, 17:45

    Also, Centauri Dreams has been a very important part of advancing the interstellar field. But I would prefer that it focus more on interstellar travel (especially technology). I think that it should have more authors of posts thereby representing leading thinkers in the community more broadly, and that it should become the official blog of the Interstellar Society so that it plays the role of the meeting place of the interstellar community as a whole.

  • Mike Jude August 31, 2012, 20:06

    I am certainly not anything like an expert on space exploration although I am currently pursuing a degree in space science. And, I am absolutely not an expert on forming non-profits,etc. But….I am something of an expert on developing viable businesses (full disclosure: I am a senior analyst for Frost & Sullivan) It seems to me we, who advocate for space, are missing a bet. Instead of taking a non-profit, pleading approach to space development and star faring, why not take a “for-profit” approach and actually make something happen?

    Of course, you may ask, what do we have to sell? Planetary Resources, SpaceX, Sierra Nevada, et al. have seized the high ground. There is nothing left to sell; especially to the general public…at least it is unlikely that one can develop warp drive by selling tee shirts.

    I submit that there is a vast potential for income and the pursuit of revenue to support basic research and to inspire additional development down stream.


    No, not an additional institute. There are too many ivory towers devoted to individuals’ pet projects. I am talking about primary education.

    Start a private school that delivers K-12 education with a space flavor. Make it for profit and charge tuition. As finances improve, add higher education options. Ultimately have a continuum of education from K through graduate level.

    Get great teachers with a space passion. Indoctrinate youngsters into space fanatics and develop research grants for the faculty to pursue new lines of research.

    Based on my experience with local for-profit primary schools, I would say that there is an un satisfied demand for math-science heavy educational experiences. I think a new “Star Fleet Academy” could be a huge success. I think people would clamor for the opportunity to send their children to such an institute. Would it be every family that could afford it? No, of course not. But it would set a standard that others would want to emulate.

    And…it would deliver a tangible product for profit that would fund other efforts. You would have to beat off the academics that would want to be involved. They would publish, their labs would test new theories, their symposia would attract great thinkers with something to say.

    It would be real, not imaginary. It would transform, not plead.

    I think it would work!!!!

  • P August 31, 2012, 22:51

    “…I detect a general mood of antipathy towards the value system of growth and progress, which would basically shut down space technology and economic growth if it could, and impose a competing value system based on values of being contented with what one already has and renouncing the accumulation of more material possessions, as well as halting progress towards such things as artificial intelligence, genetic engineering and nanotech…”

    I don’t want to inject a political slant here, but maybe you detect that mood because to some of us endless growth in an essentially closed biosphere doesn’t add up. In space it’s different. A spacefaring civilisation surely will not ‘do its thing’ in planetary biospheres, which after all may be incredibly rare. This is why I believe ‘Earth humans’ will never travel to space in large numbers and will have to learn to live in some kind of steady state society, but for ‘space humans’ it will be home, a separate budding of the species, and they will have the cosmos to grow into.


  • Joy September 1, 2012, 0:00

    The Planetary Society is a model, unfortunately, despite good intentions and modest funding, they never were able to loft their demonstration solar sail. The Mars Society, despite great vision, has never launched any hardware either. The L5 society, one of the founders of which I have had the pleasure of knowing, left little tangible legacy…

    What interstellar dreamers have in common with all of the above, is a need to establish the real possibility of terrestrial life sustainably living off Earth. (The ISS is little more than a microgravity RV park, requiring frequent shipments of supplies.) Despite the ability to do the experiments since the 1970s, they have never even been attempted. A mind boggling omission which has been standing in the way of space colonies or space travel beyond Earth orbit for 40 years now! Space development is as much a biology problem as a physics or robotics problem. The difference is that the biology projects are orders of magnitude cheaper that the physics projects and can be done now. Projects which could advance all agendas for life beyond Earth:

    1) Demonstration of a hermetically sealed ecology able to indefinitely sustain itself in space. Mt design would be a sealed glass/plastic laminate bottle with a UV coating, spun up, containing seawater, phytoplankton, tropical krill, and small tropical fish. Nothing enters or exits the aquarium except radiation. A live webcam would allow the public to observe the experiment. Until we can make this work, we know nothing of life in space.

    2) Demonstration that mammals can reproduce in space in a spun habitat for several generations. (Thanks to Bob Zubrin for this idea). Incredible as it may sound, no mammal has been conceived or born in space, not one. (I am astonished that not one woman in space has defied the bureaucrats and gotten herself pregnant in orbit)
    The MDS “Mice Drawer System” has already been used on the ISS, unfortunately with a only a 50% (3/6) survival rate in 91 days of microgravity. The 1g control mice (housed in a ground based MDS) had no deaths: http://www.plosone.org/article/info:doi/10.1371/journal.pone.0032243
    Next obvious step it to attempt to breed mice in space at 1g. Perhaps a spun up dragon capsule could be adapted for this purpose. Experimental animal population control is a sensitive issue, but cameras, waldos, and anesthetic gases would allow the tele-operators to manage this, as most of each generation of mice would go in the fridge. Recovery of living cute and robust 4th generation space born mice after a year would go a long way to rekindling the idea that space could be a home for humanity. Sell their descendants on ebay as space pets for more publicity?

    Anyway, that is where I think interstellar organizations, and all space organizations need to go, back to basics in renewing the idea that space is not just for robots, but a potential home for terrestrial life. Leave the far future and wild speculations such as the alcubierre drive to writers of fiction and concentrate on tangible progress in the near future.

  • Jean-Pierre Le Rouzic September 1, 2012, 3:47

    Mike, I like your post and your energy!

    And John has certainly a point about X15 incremental steps would never have lead to the moon.
    Perhaps John had another point, there isn’t enough audience to create several institute, seriously how many people are posting here, at IcariusInterstellar or on the varius Facebook pages? That’s a very tiny community.

    Another approach thing that in one hand it’s so easy to publish rubbish about the zero point energy, entanglement, sci-fi inspired pseudo technology and in the other hand it’s so hard to even create a small working demo that probably nobody would ever try the second approach in this community.
    And surprisingly given the topic, demos could be created, for example one could use metamaterials to simulate warping space.
    There is also the ego aspect, if someone publish an article full of equations, it doesn’t matter if it makes any sense at all, the social dividend happens quickly and last for years. There is no such reward with demos.

    You get my point: We are a very tiny, ego driven community and the best we can do for the community is help teens create real even if tiny achievements. I am sure someone like Steve Wozniak would like this idea. Marc you can do something here, please listen to Mike!

  • Ron S September 1, 2012, 12:04

    I agree with most of what Joy and Jean-Pierre say. Except that I would go further. The idea that any such institute will add anything of value to true propulsion systems for interstellar travel are at best very unlikely. Any of the needed breakthroughs in fundamental physics will come out of basic research that does not even consider the question of propulsion. This focus on propulsion, almost every bit of which is based on fiction or wild hope, makes the entire enterprise (yes, just in my opinion) look silly.

    Get rid of the physicists and get the biologists and ecologists on board. We need a sustainable, semi-closed habitat for any mission longer than perhaps 2 years. Do that and it matters less whether the trip is 100 years or 10,000 years.

    I am being deliberately (and overly?) harsh in my assessment in order to make the point.

  • Marc Millis September 1, 2012, 13:33

    Please keep the feedback coming!

    I would love to hear more from our ‘customers’ – telling our potential service providers what you would want them to do, rather than the other way around.

    That said, here are some of my reactions to things already posted:

    (1) K-12 space as a business:
    I do see the value and opportunity here. I regret, however, that this good idea is beyond the skills and resources I have in my network. I looked into this years ago and discovered that the amount of preparatory work was way beyond what I could invest. It is my opinion that the near-Earth and interplanetary communities would be better sources to create a K-12 program/school. Perhaps the “Challenger Center” would be a better organization with whom to work this idea. I like the idea, but it is way beyond our skill set and resources.

    (2) Space Colony:
    I wholeheartedly agree that this is an under-represented challenge that is on the critical path to human survival, both for space and for living efficiently on Earth. I am surprised that the lunar and Mars advocates are not picking this up, since they have to face it first. That said, I’ve been trying to add this topic to the suite of things we cover, but do not yet have enough help to dig into those details and weave it into our coverage. I hear you loud and clear that this needs to be addressed, and I agree. Who, out there, are the leaders in this area (the ones making progress, not the ones making proposals)?

    (3) Organizational Transparency:
    This whole Q&A (about what ‘you’ want from the interstellar organizations), is a ‘transparent’ step. Please also recall our exposure about decision making from at least one of our prior Centauri Dreams posts: . I cannot speak for the other organizations such as the 100YSSO or Icarus Interstellar.

    Again, please keep the feedback coming… What do you want an organization to do (realistically within our limited resources)? Is there something the organizations are doing that you are NOT willing to support? Where would you put your money?

  • Joy September 1, 2012, 18:37

    “Who, out there, are the leaders in this area (the ones making progress, not the ones making proposals)?”

    @Marc – The biosphere 2 project was an ill conceived, poorly designed, and over ambitious mess which initially was viewed as an epic fail. But much was learned from the failure. The facility still exists and is now an ongoing U of Az institute which has the academic expertise on staff. Most of the experimentation required to design a workable sealed aquarium ecology could be done in the ground for very low cost by students. Spacers need to partner with such institutions and could then propose a low cost and low risk mini orbital ecology satellite to public institutions and private donors.

  • Astronist September 1, 2012, 21:19

    I agree completely with P, Joy and Marc about the importance of demonstrating and developing sustainable life in space. If we cannot colonise even our own Solar System, we won’t be very successful trying to colonise extrasolar systems.

    This is an important part of one possible Guiding Scenario which I think offers a plausible means of progress. Its key concept is the ramping down of population and energy growth on Earth at the same time as ramping it up in space, a paradigm of future growth which one does not often see referred to (usually the only option offered is between bringing industrial and population growth to a complete end, or else continuing it on Earth alone with catastrophic results).

    Oxford, UK

  • James September 2, 2012, 0:41

    Mike is completely correct. As long as the human species have limited resources other things will take priority over a project that will take centuries to implement with no immediate return on your investment. Unfortunately, most people have no more than a year to 5 year time horizon if that. This is due to the short term thinking of most people whether its in business, politics, research, or philanthropy. One of the best ways to get more ideas, creativity, and resources flowing into making mankind a space faring civilization is to bring out one of our most primitive instincts—greed.

    When people feel there is a way to make money, lots of money, they will find a way to make it happen. Look at the thousands of people who moved to the Yukon or Alaska based upon their belief they can make money in the oil industry, gold, fishing, etc. Secondly, look at all the internet startups that got funded during the height of the dot com boom when technology stocks where sky rocketing like crazy and a new dot com company had an IPO everyday. Yes most of these companies will fail (more than 90%) and some of these companies had a lot of stupid ideas, but for those that do succeed they have continuously innovated, put money into infrastructure to grow their profits, invested money into R&D, made money for their investors, and attracted a lot of highly talented people with high IQs. Large returns on investments will lead to more investments from people who want to share in the rewards. Don’t underestimate the power of compounding.

    What I’m saying is there is nothing wrong with bringing a profit incentive to the goal interstellar travel. Don’t view profits as something that is evil as most people do. Profits are a good thing as it leads to more of it and it benefits society when you can do good with it. Think about the medical industry. There probably would have been zero innovation in the past 100 years without the power of doctors, pharmaceuticals, etc to make a boat load of money. Look at all the new companies continuously forming and failing with a few succeeding, this in my opinion is what leads to quick progress due to the desire of profits in that industry.

    I’d be willing to invest money in a company that is trying to make interstellar travel possible if I feel it has a chance of success as I’m sure other greedy capitalist would do. As Mike mentioned look at what Elon did with Space X by investing $100 million of his own money. Today that company is reportedly profitable which will in turn lead to more investment in getting the assess cost to space down. Look at what those at Planterary Resources are doing to get asteroid mining profitable.

    Another way to make an idea profitable is an X-prize of sorts. Bringing that profit incentive to the table can attract research. You can offer X-prizes for the best paper or anything you can come up with based upon your funding. I would definitely be willing to give money to something like this because:

    1. Is tax deductible for something I think have long-term benefits to society.
    2. Its a way to have 5 to 1 or even 10 to 1 leverage. By that I mean you have a $1 million prize, but with many competitors going after a prize they could all invest $10 million to reach that $1 million prize.
    3. It will attract media attention and possibly more prizes and more competitors and secondly you get the effect of bring the cause before the public.
    4. The money is only paid out when goal of the prize is accomplished.
    5. You have more brainpower committed to solving problems by having various competitors competing with various ideas on how to reach the objectives of the prize.

    As I said you can offer a prize for the best papers on solving propulsion method for interstellar travel, you can offer a prize for someone creating closed loop life support, or you can offer a prize for a the first man made craft to reach 10 million MPH. There is an assorted number of prizes you can offer with various degrees of payout, difficulty, and time duration.

    Here is an interesting article on what Bill Gates did with toilets. http://www.economist.com/node/21560990
    Quote from the article:
    “Even the Gates Foundation itself, which hands out around $3 billion each year, has devoted just $6.5m to its Reinventing The Toilet Challenge. But that will change as the project moves from conception to delivery. The foundation plans to spend up to $80m a year on sanitation, an investment that the World Health Organisation estimates will produce a return of 900% in the form of social and economic benefits from increased productivity and reduced health-care costs.”

    The estimated return on investment is 900% according to the WHO. A prize should be geared to do something similar for interstellar travel.

    Marc finding a way for Tao Zero to encourage the profit making potential of developing interstellar travel is the best way I feel to bring about the goal of interstellar travel much more quickly than what we basically have now which is zero funding.

  • James September 2, 2012, 0:48

    Recently I wrote an email to Marc and Paul with regard to a website I came across called Break Out Labs. I believe that Break out Labs could be a good source of private funding for Tao Zero and other foundations on various small projects for interstellar travel. If you have a good idea don’t hesitate to submit for funding.

    Here is the email:


    I was recently looking at the Breakout Labs website of recipients of $50 to $350K of funding to further research break throughs project. While there I noticed a group called Positron Dynmamics, LLC as one of the recipients of the award. Their project idea:

    developing methods to enhance the production and collection of positrons, a class of elementary particles. Positrons have many near-term applications, for example, in medical imaging; in the long run, they may be a source of energy-antimatter propulsion-for space travel. Breakout Labs funding will be used to take simulated designs for ‘cooling’ and capturing positrons emitted from a radioactive source into a fabricated prototype.

    This research project if successful has the short term benefit of helping the medical industry and a long term benefit of helping with faster space propulsion. My email is propose to you Marc and Paul your foundation and others devoted to chipping away at the difficulty of interstellar travel make a variety of proposals for grant fundings from these foundations such as Breakout Labs, Thiel Foundation, and 20 under 20 program to help incrementally develop ideas that can take us one step closer to the human race becoming a space faring civilization. For example scientist working with Tao Zero, Icarus Project, and other institutions can apply for individual grants based upon different break through projects they are working on. These are hypothetical of course but say Marc proposes to develop a system for an anti-matter containment, Paul proposes to develop an artificial gravity concept he has, and I propose a method for developing a long-term food source in zero G environment. Hopefully some of these idea submitted could get some funding for Break Out Labs. Also the 20 Under 20 program can through Tao Zero encourage students interested in space to seek funding for revolutionary ideas they may have for space travel–think, one of these students could do for space travel what Bill Gates or Steve Jobs did for computer industry. There could be 50 various projects going on at the sametime with each project having $50 to 350K funding source. I know this is a small amount of what is needed but each small step makes it that much easier.

    Its late and I hope I have conveyed my ideas clearly and I look forward to your response.

    Breakout Labs


    Breakout Labs is the Thiel Foundation’s newest program. Through Breakout Labs, we’re reshaping the way early-stage science is funded, so that early-stage companies can advance their most radical ideas. Venture capital firms want research that can be quickly brought to market, and federal funding offers little room for risky, unproven ideas. We are jumping into this funding gap to energize innovative research. Breakout Labs is not a typical foundation grant—we are a revolutionary, revolving funding model where successful projects fund the next generation of audacious scientific exploration.

    Thiel Foundation
    The Thiel Foundation supports the exploration of new frontiers in science and technology, including artificial intelligence, longevity science, cyberspace development, outer space exploration, and seasteading. To that end, we fund forward-thinking research that endeavors to improve the human condition and to ensure that technological breakthroughs will benefit humanity.

    Thiel Fellowship (20 Under 20)

    The Thiel Fellowship is unlike anything you’ve ever experienced. The Fellowship brings together some of the world’s most creative and motivated young people, and helps them bring their most ambitious ideas and projects to life. Thiel Fellows are given a no-strings-attached grant of $100,000 to skip college and focus on their work, their research, and their self-education. They are mentored by our network of visionary thinkers, investors, scientists, and entrepreneurs, who provide guidance and business connections that can’t be replicated in any classroom. Rather than just studying, you’re doing.

  • Adam Crowl September 2, 2012, 4:55

    Joy has made some good points. The Mouse-Sat would be a vital experiment in so many ways.

  • A. A. Jackson September 2, 2012, 13:45

    On ‘journal’ publications.
    Someone can enlighten me, but I don’t think there is an analog to arXiv for engineering? I don’t think, say, AIAA papers show up there.
    One should be mindful that the papers are not peer reviewed , there is an “endorsement” system. One can read the Wikipedia article:


    Now I have indeed found papers on traversalable wormholes and Alcubierre Warp Drive …and some others there, even some JBIS submitted papers, but I am pretty sure not sure everything interstellar technical occurs there. (Even tho there is a Quantitative Finance subsection, and I know that’s usually mathematical , still …..)
    One might suggest such a site for interstellar studies, but on a much smaller scale, I can’t see finding institutions who would support such a site to the tune of $400,000 per year.
    Seems it could be dedicated site , maybe supported by voluntary contributions, it could still have a modified endorsement system, that would have to be worked on. Note most arXiv papers are in process of journal submission but not all (I think even conference and symposium papers appear there).
    There is the story of the proof of Poincaré conjecture by Grigori Perelman which turned out to be valid but was never submitted to a journal.
    I suggest the same range for interstellar studies as the JBIS … at arXiv there could even be a special section for dubious e-prints. Would need moderators.

  • Paul Titze September 2, 2012, 20:39

    @ A.A. Jackson

    There’s an alternative to arXiv which is http://viXra.org (this is arXiv spelt in reverse). This repsoitory is less restrictive and my paper for eg on Interstellar Navigation is there online even though I’m not affiliated anymore with a university or don’t have academic sponsors as required by arXiv. So I would suggest if anyone wishes to publish a paper and make it readily available.

    Problem with JBIS for eg is that this is a fee based system and not everyone has the time to go to a university who have an account to read the papers (let alone pay for each paper to download), this limits somewhat the audience to a select “few” who have an account.

    Cheers, Paul.

  • David September 2, 2012, 22:51


    Here is one of his most recent and he is interested in tranforming the world and this sure would and we will need this sooner rather than later …lets just say spening this summer in the Midwest really makes you wonder how fast we will need animal free meat…..

    As to interstellar its a good place to go.Is there anything we can do short term that would interest grantors and even DOD and its contractors?

    I am thjining back to the oldest days where we just smased Ranger into the Moon …..I recall way way back there was a proposal here to send a summy probe reallly fast to test propulsion?

  • Alex Tolley September 3, 2012, 1:12

    Demonstration of a hermetically sealed ecology able to indefinitely sustain itself in space. Mt design would be a sealed glass/plastic laminate bottle with a UV coating, spun up, containing seawater, phytoplankton, tropical krill, and small tropical fish. Nothing enters or exits the aquarium except radiation. A live webcam would allow the public to observe the experiment. Until we can make this work, we know nothing of life in space.

    How much would it cost just to put one of these eco-spheres in space, funded by advertising? Perhaps in a cube sat?

    I agree with Joy that there is a lot of potential to do biological work fairly inexpensively with institutions. We also will need to do experiments in space, and breeding mice in a centrifuge should be on the list, although this seems like a task for a very well funded organization. For location, one of Bigelow’s small inflatable habs, spun up, seems possible. One question – do we need to go all the way to space to mimic many features of the space environment? Could we use high altitude balloons/platforms that J P Aerospace is promoting?

  • A. A. Jackson September 3, 2012, 11:18

    @Paul Titze
    I did not know of the existence of viXra , figures that such came into being.
    Well … after looking at a selection of eprints there is more chaff than wheat.

    One thing about the JBIS here in Houston, 4th largest city in the US, is that only the Lunar Planetary Institute used to subscribe to the hard copy. I will have to check to see if they have an electronic subscription.

    It’s a problem with many journals that their publisher charges a king’s ransom for offprints. One way around this is to find the email address of an author and ask for an e-copy. Not all authors will comply with this but most will.
    Also, many journals have a ‘horizon’ , that is if a paper is , say, ten or some limit in years, then make the pages available free, not all journals do this.
    Accessibility can be a real problem as libraries cut budgets.

  • Marc Millis September 3, 2012, 13:02

    Please specify… Regarding journals and idea postings… I’ve seen more than one notion broached, but not sure about our readership’s consensus:
    (A) Only post peer reviewed submissions.
    (B) All submission posted.
    Or somewhere in between?

  • Marc Millis September 3, 2012, 13:05

    Regarding the additional ideas offered in these discussion, are you offering these in ADDITION to those activities listed in the article, or are you suggesting that these new ideas REPLACE an activity listed in the article?

  • David September 3, 2012, 16:27

    This is the nearer term type work I think is grant ready-ramping up lasers. Not the only one just a for instance.
    In Addition to the other ideas…………..

    Journal Peer reveiwed papers for the engineering or physics research BUT a news section for news items or summaries of the technical papers in addition to Cenaturi Dreams

  • Daniel Peters September 3, 2012, 16:57

    Technological innovation is increasing exponentially.
    The distinguished members here planning a 100yr interstellar mission today is like distinguished, highly credentialed men in 1912 planning for a 2012 moon colony. To a great degree today all here would think the 1912 forecast technologies & techniques for achieving a moon colony in 2012 to be mostly one or more of: quaint, silly, uninformed, ludicrous, hopelessly archaic & laughable.
    The situation will most assuredly be the same in 2112. To not know this is a symptom of the “Everything that is going to be invented has already been invented” syndrome.
    I respectfully submit your time on this matter would much more usefully be spent on plans with a much sooner target.
    Sorry to be a wet blanket but the less impracticality associated with Space, the better for us all.

  • A. A. Jackson September 3, 2012, 18:01

    I can only speak for myself.
    Seems , looking over the topics, I didn’t see anything like arXiv mentioned. arXiv has evolved into an interesting information source. It does not replace journals. Sending out preprints before they have been submitted to a refereed journal or even when they are in the referee process has a long history. Wikipedia’s statement:
    “Its existence was one of the precipitating factors that led to the current movement in scientific publishing known as open access. Mathematicians and scientists regularly upload their papers to arXiv.org for worldwide access and sometimes for reviews before they are published in peer-reviewed journals.”
    … is kind of restatement of the private circulation of preprints.
    I find that almost all the articles at arXiv seem viable to me, I am usually looking at Astrophysics and Physics papers. (I notice one of your papers there,
    “Progress in revolutionary propulsion physics”).
    I was suggesting an arXiv for Interstellar Studies, it might have a different name , the idea being that the community which is spread around the world would have a chance to see ideas in the field when they don’t have access to hard copy journals.
    How to get qualified moderators and endorsers would be something open for discussion.
    So I place it as an additional idea.

  • Abelard Lindsey September 3, 2012, 18:25

    The Space Studies Institute (ssi.org) was created parallel to the L5 Society to do the research described here. It is still active and is planning two projects. One is to determine how much gravity is necessary for sustained human health. Despite the space state and 30 years of shuttle flights, there has never been any experiments with rodents to figure this one out. The other project is to incrementally develop the biomeme (hermetically sealed ecology) technology necessary for space settlement.

    Any interstellar travel organization ought to work closely with SSI on the relevant technologies.

    James Woodward seems to have demonstrated that his concept for Mach effect propulsion is real. He is now working with another researcher at Cal State Fullerton to scale up the effect. The first target market is to replace Hall thrusters for satellites. Likewise, Paul March is working with Harold to demonstrate if the QVF equivalent to Mach effects can work as well. These efforts should be supported, financially and technically, by any interstellar travel organization.

  • David September 3, 2012, 22:53

    I have to disagree with Daniel Peters I dont see this exponential growth. I was watching old shows again. The house in teh Dick van Dyke show which predates my birth is mot much different from today other than the internet.
    In fact there may have actually been a high standard of living in the US at that time. We just have not seen the dramatic changes between 1962 and 2012 that we saw between 1912 and 1962. The changes have been microeveolutionary rather than revolutionary.
    We could upgrade out situation with the kind of massive praive and government investment we once saw in R&D. Thats what we are talking about here the next breakthrough in space speed from the chemical and very limited nuclear rocket era which we still live in.
    True breakthroughs in fundamental physics are harder . I am really afraid we need to hope for another Einstein or Copernicus or Newton
    I see us up against some real walls. The Dark Energy shows us we are missing something …but what?
    I am convinced 5-10 percent of light is a matter of will and teh desire to expand our technology again ……..the breakthoroughs in new physics that is something different

  • Mark Boudreau September 4, 2012, 13:27

    “Based on my experience with local for-profit primary schools, I would say that there is an un satisfied demand for math-science heavy educational experiences. I think a new “Star Fleet Academy” could be a huge success. I think people would clamor for the opportunity to send their children to such an institute. Would it be every family that could afford it? No, of course not. But it would set a standard that others would want to emulate.”

    I think Mike’s idea has real merit although I would steer clear of calling it Star Fleet Academy for fear it would be labeled as some kind of fantasy camp.

  • Daniel Peters September 4, 2012, 15:17

    David’s Post accurately raises the issue that growth does not appear exponential.

    I suggest we almost never recognize the most important fundamental breakthroughs when they occur. Evidence: Nobel prizes are most always NOT awarded in the year of the breakthrough but many years, sometimes decades, later when the importance of the invention finally becomes fully evident. “Technological innovation” occurs, not as a smooth continuous curve but as a raged line of near plateaus with random sharp discontinuities & unevenly across technological domains.

    David, Yes the house today is very similar to that in 1962 & even 1912. The information accessible, the power, speed, quality & dimensionality of networks in which you can fully participate from inside that house are immensely greater today than those of 1962. From that house, the scientist today can perform hard cutting edge science utilizing on & off planet instruments limited mostly by the scientist’s imagination & budget. From that house a scientist can perform, using only assets available today, almost all the science a 1912 scientific team could imagine for a Moon expedition: charting, topography, atmospheric & surface chemical analysis, gravitic measurements, pictorial essays, etc. This capability was unimaginable in 1912.

    My point remains: The unforeseeable, unpredictable, & inevitable discoveries/inventions between now & 2112 will render useless the great majority of the hard work, sweat & tears here on the 100YSS. I fully expect Voyager I & II to become roadside attractions visitable by antique space hardware buffs with several months & assets worth several 10s of millions of 2012 dollars to devote to the project; sort of like the Titanic is today.

    There is already a large surplus of impracticality associated with Space. In my humble opinion the Space Community would be MUCH better served by the very capable & distinguished people here focusing their hard work, talent & time on plans to make real by 2020 the discoveries/inventions of 2040.

  • ljk September 5, 2012, 9:55

    My perspectives on this endeavor/adventure and some of the comments made here:

    For those who say that we should rather focus on more immediate celestial goals in terms of literal space and time: There are already plenty of groups which do this, including several large space agencies funded by governments and several others by private industry.

    We can afford – indeed, it is necessary – to place at least some of our energies and time on looking at the ultimate purpose of space utilization and exploration, which is the movement into the wider Milky Way galaxy and eventually beyond.

    If you think starships (and by default, extraterrestrial life) will not be of interest or grab the attention (and financial support) of the general public, then you have obviously never heard of Star Trek or Star Wars.

    In the 1990s, NASA took an informal poll about what the public wanted to see them do. The top-rated answers were to put humans on Mars and find alien life. The ISS did not figure into the equation. I doubt those views have changed much since.

    Planning an interstellar probe is no longer a remote science fiction dream. Especially if you are not talking about something requiring an FTL drive or access to a cosmic wormhole. We could start building an Orion vessel now if we wanted to. I have nothing against fusion propulsion certainly, but it is only wise to look at multiple possibilities using known technologies and abilities that will be available in short order.

    I am honestly not very concerned if our plans will look “silly” to future generations. It might seem silly and even foolhardy to us that the ancients used wooden sailing vessels with no electricity or rigorous safety features, but they worked and they got plenty of people across the waters of Earth.

    The Wright Brothers airplane was hardly a YF-23, but it worked and all modern aircraft owe their debts of existence to those pioneers who did not wait around for the technology and some ambiguous future inventor to discover a miracle. Look at the Mercury and Vostok spacecraft or even Apollo – the Lunar Module computer that helped put humans on the Moon is something no one today would even consider using for such an ambitious venture, but they did and it worked multiple times.

    I really hope in my lifetime and for the rest of us reading this now will see a prototype star probe under development at the very least. And I do NOT mean some pretty CGI on a computer or in yet another conference paper.

    About publications: I think it is best to have at least two kinds of periodicals – one for the technical details and the other to excite and involve the public, along with focusing on those important details which the engineers tend to avoid or miss: These include such as how any human crew will be able to survive and thrive on a multigenerational mission and the ethics and other issues of colonizing or even exploring an Earthlike world that will likely be inhabited. If you only have one type or the other, you will by turns lose the people who can make a star vessel a reality and those who might support such a venture.

    We also have an opportunity – indeed, a duty – to educate the public and inspire future generations through this plan. There is money in teaching people, just ask any university and see how much even community colleges are charging for tuition these days. A bad economy hasn’t slowed them down in that area.

    Which leads to my final point: Whatever kind of group is decided upon, it should be a for-profit organization. Not only because having money will keep things afloat and happening, but also because if you want the kind of resources and capital to make an interstellar craft a reality, we cannot be seen as just another space advocacy group that blurs the line between real space travel and a Star Trek convention.

    For now we need to knock off about focusing on things like what kind of building the organization will have. Any decent office complex will do for the foreseeable future.

    Take the following as a real world warning: The SETI Institute spent millions of dollars on their fancy headquarters at the expense of doing actual SETI; in the process of putting their Allen Telescope Array (ATA) together, they somehow forgot to get funding for its continued operation and now they are scrambling to get the money. Jill Tarter actually gave up her leadership role to help get the funding, that is how bad things have gotten. In the meanwhile the galaxy is not being properly scanned for alien signals by them.

    And as for universities being part of the equation as Berkeley was managing ATA for a while (and ultimately dropped the ball), they can be part of an interstellar spacecraft organization if they wish, but I would rather see real businesses with knowledgable investors with real money and clout run the show. Otherwise we can be a nice little academic think tank and spend another forty years or more writing papers on propulsion drives and not be any closer to putting metal to metal because those with the funds and influence do not take the venture seriously.

    If you really want humanity to reach the stars, start making the organizational decisions now, learn how to get the public interested, and get the real funds and resources to start building something, just as the guys who came up with Orion actually built a working prototype (which sadly now hangs in the Smithsonian collecting dust).

    I don’t know about you, but I don’t have another forty or fifty years to wait around. Nor do I think it prudent or wise to delay this plan for our species or our civilization. Don’t you want to be an actual part of the solution that keeps humanity not only alive but thriving?

  • Peter September 5, 2012, 10:55

    Specialization is the obvious solution to having multiple organizations.

    By narrowing down the parameters, the energy that can lead to results can be concentrated. So my vote is for more clarity, focus, and organization. For example, one of the various entities could deal exclusively with the FTL approaches (warp drives, wormholes) to distinguish itself and those resources could be diverted to that one area where more substantial progress could be made than if they were dispersed.

    However Marc has already made it clear that he intends the TZF to be very expansive, so perhaps this is an avenue that the “Institute for Interstellar Studies” could consider (although judging by the choice of the name I’ll assume that specialization is very unlikely there also).

  • Kelvin F. Long September 5, 2012, 15:14

    ljk and Peter, the last two comments above, I agree entirely with what you both said. Very good.

    Kelvin F. Long

  • Marc Millis September 5, 2012, 17:32

    REGARDING COLLABORATIONS, here’s what’s been happening:

    Back in April, I sent a suggestion to the 100YSSO/Icarus-Interstellar team about who might do what (Long was still with that team at the time). I heard back in August from Icarus Interstellar that, in short, my suggestion was a reasonable step to begin discussions, but we would have to wait until after the Houston 100YSS Symposium. I did not get any clear feedback from Mae Jemison, despite exchanging a few email and phone messages. Long already approached both Tau Zero and Icarus in July about helping him create his Institute, but I told him that is not something Tau Zero can support.

    So that is roughly were the collaborative discussions stand.

    This “WHAT DO YOU WANT?” query via Centauri Dreams (and its 32000 subscribers) was my way to give each organization an insight into what our collective ‘customers’ want, in preparation for those collaborative discussions.

    I’ve paid attention to what’s been posted in these threads, and it has affected my thoughts for the future.

    Nuff said.

  • Bounty September 5, 2012, 20:05

    @ Marc on the peer review question. Do both A and B, label/organize accordingly. Both categories of papers would probably feed each other.

    Is there a forum other than the comments section of this site/article that we should be discussing this? A real place to take polls on projects and discuss specific topics. Somewhere we can get to answers. These comments sections are nice, but quickly vanish as new stories and topics come out. Our feedback and interests are chaotic, based on Pauls news. Next step, get even more organized.

    You have a long time to find niches, evolve your organization, cooperate and compete. I think you have more good answers than you can digest, many of the posts above seem like specific projects or papers.

    Collect and distribute information, sell T-Shirts if it will help, promote research in whatever ways you can for specific topics.

    ….. Oh, and thanks!

  • ljk September 6, 2012, 10:17

    You know who is going to get us to the literal stars? Super rich businessmen with a taste for immortality.

    Think S. R. Hadden from Carl Sagan’s Contact. In the 1985 novel version, Hadden has himself shot out of the Sol system where the natural deep cold of deep space will eventually freeze him and hopefully preserve him to be revived by someone or something in the far future.

    These are the individuals who are making the real progress in space right now, the kind of leaps the space nerds have been whining about for decades. Richard Branson is offering suborbital space jaunts on his spacecraft. Planetary Resources wants to mine planetoids: One of their members is James Cameron, who recently did the first in-person submarine dive to the deepest part of the Pacific Ocean, which has not been even attempted since the first time it happened in 1960. Another company is offering $100 million trips around Luna using modified Soyuz craft (they already have one serious customer).

    See what I am getting at?

    Governments will not get us into the galaxy or even very far into the Sol system. They do not want to lose control of current and future subjects out there on their own in the vast Milky Way. They do not have to be outright dictatorships to think and act like this. Most of these politicians do not care and do not get what I am saying now (most of them are lawyers, not scientists or engineers), as is evident by the negative reaction earlier this year to Newt Gingrich’s suggestion of a manned lunar base by 2020.

    But once corporations really start to realize how much wealth is out there in the Sol system alone and start raking in all that money, creating an entire infrastructure and permanent colonies to support it in the process, politicians will start to wake up to what is in the rest of the Universe beyond their next election – and they will want a stake in it too, along with all those future subjects.

    Let us be honest here: If we space geeks could have gotten all we wanted we would have Mars colonies and probes to Alpha Centauri by now. But most of us lack the money, resources, and clout to do so. Even joining forces will not be enough if there is no one in a position of real power to make things happen. Note how those who are planning to mine the planetoids just leaped ahead with the idea, with no obvious involvement or even consultation from all the current space advocacy groups. We make some great unpaid cheerleaders, don’t we?

    Nope, it is gonna be some rich billionaire who wants to get into the history books and immortalize himself in one fashion or another (and he might even be trying to fulfill a boyhood dream of traveling to the stars) by realizing that building the first starship will do the trick. Do not be surprised if he and guys like him even start trying to lay claim to the nearby star systems.

    By the way, I am not trying to be sexist here when I keep referring to businessMEN, it is just that I have seen few rich women if any at all getting involved in the space entrepreneur game. Why is that?

    The other potential first group to leave the Sol system permanently would be a cult. Guys like Timothy Leary desired to take themselves and their closest followers into the galaxy back in the 1960s to live their lives free of oppression and persecution from the rest of human society. Of course they might be satisfied with occupying the Kuiper Belt or Oort Cloud, but I bet some will want Alpha Centauri or even further. As we witnessed with Biosphere 2, super rich guys and cults can and do go hand-in-hand, so there might be a cooperative effort to reach the stars.

    Note how little this has to do with serious science, just as Apollo and by default the entire Space Age only happened in all honesty because the USA and USSR were in a geopolitical shoving match. Science was the cover story, grateful for every scrap of knowledge that fell from the dining table of politics and engineering.

    So unless something radically changes with human nature and politics in the coming years, it will be rich guys and cults who are our first ambassadors to the stars. Astronauts, scientists, and space geeks will be along for the ride, if they are lucky (if you call being at the whims of a cult with no escape lucky).

    I wish I could sugarcoat this more, but I am seeing a lot of smart and well-meaning people with a sincere desire to explore the heavens and make sure our species remains alive and well into the far future have their dreams trampled by those in power who just do not care. We need to play the system as it presently exists if we want to do more than just talk about going to Alpha Centauri for the next hundred years.

    We need a sugardaddy. Maybe two.

  • Daniel Peters September 7, 2012, 15:16

    Some people think one should purchase expedition gear before the expedition destination is determined. These people are prepared with new bathing suits, sandals & snorkel gear when the Winter Antarctic Turboprop to Mcmurdo Station is ready for boarding.

    “Wooden sailing vessels with no electricity or rigorous safety features” did not make our exploratory predecessors look silly. Planning a 100 year swim to the new world was to them equally silly as the 100YSS is today. The means and propulsive mechanism for the Star Ship is fundamental to the Star Ship design & Mission Plan. It is hard to overstate prematurity of Star Ship mission planning before the means and propulsive mechanism for the Star Ship is experimentally proven.

    Dismissively hand-waving “There are already plenty of groups which do this” does nothing to solve the obvious fundamental propulsion problem: These “groups” have an unblemished record of failure to experimentally prove ANY Star Ship propulsion mechanism.

    It is obvious to me the invention of Star Ship propulsion requires the outside-the-box thinking of people like the “Wright Brothers” & those here at centauri-dreams.org.

    Doing foundationless 100YSS mission planning instead of bringing THE FUNDAMENTAL PREREQUISITE Star Ship propulsion mechanism into existence is huge waste of scarce resources & paints the Space Community with yet another coat of impracticality. In my humble opinion the energies & resources devoted to the 100YSS are MUCH more usefully be spent on the incredible hard work of the literally world changing development of our prerequisite: a means and propulsive mechanism for the Star Ship.