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Update on Starship Century Symposium

We had a successful launch last night of the ESTCube-1 satellite from Kourou, about which more tomorrow when I’ll be talking about electric sails and their uses both interplanetary and interstellar. But this morning, with the Starship Century Symposium rapidly approaching, I wanted to run this overview, which corrects and updates several things in the post I published a couple of weeks ago. Seats are still available for those of you in range. Thanks to Jim Benford for the following:

Starship Century final cover

The Starship Century Symposium is the inaugural event at the new Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at UC San Diego, Tuesday Wednesday, May 21–22. The program is located here. The symposium celebrates the publication of the Benfords’ anthology, Starship Century. Jon Lomberg, the artist who collaborated extensively with Carl Sagan, has read the book and has this comment:

Starship Century is the definitive document of this moment in humanity’s long climb to the stars. Here you can find the physics, the astronomy, the engineering, and the vision that provides the surest guideposts to our future and destiny.

A number of luminaries will discuss a wide variety of starship–related topics derived from the book. The gathering features thinkers from a variety of disciplines including scientists, futurists, space advocates and science fiction writers. The program includes Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin, Peter Schwartz, Geoffrey Landis, Ian Crawford, James Benford and John Cramer. Science fiction writers included are Neal Stephenson, Gregory Benford, Allen Steele, Joe Haldeman and David Brin. Other writers attending are Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Vernor Vinge.

The book will be available for sale for the first time on Tuesday the 21st at a book signing immediately following the first day of the Symposium. There many of the authors in the anthology will be available for signing. Following the first day of the Symposium there will be a reception featuring an exhibition of Arthur C. Clarke artifacts in the Giesel Library of UCSD.

In addition to the speakers, there are a number of panels. One, about the development of the Solar System, is ‘The Future of New Space’. Another is a panel on ‘Getting to the Target Stars,’ moderated by SETI celebrity Jill Tarter. The conclusion is a science fiction writers panel, ‘Envisioning the Starship Era,’ moderated by Gregory Benford and featuring Joe Haldeman, David Brin, Vernor Vinge and Jon Lomberg. At the conclusion of the Symposium there will be a book signing for other books of the authors present. There will also be a later book signing at Mysterious Galaxy bookstore a few miles from the University. It will feature Starship Century and the works of the other writers present.

The Symposium will be webcast and then archived. The webcast, which activates at the time of the event, is here.

The Benfords will donate the profits from sale of the book to interstellar research activities. They are currently working to establish a research committee that will award research contracts. The edition available at the symposium will be unique, a collectors item. The book will then go into general distribution in the summer. The Benfords recommend purchasing through a link that will soon appear on the Starship Century website.

This route is optimal because it maximizes the percentage profit, thus maximizing the money available for research. As we all know, research dollars have been greatly lacking in the interstellar area, which is one reason why the interstellar organizations such as Icarus Interstellar, Tau Zero and the Institute for Interstellar Studies are volunteer organizations. The Benfords are planning a second symposium to be held in London in the fall.


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Dmitri May 7, 2013, 10:28

    Just yesterday asked about the solar sail on the ESTCube-1 and now reading a paper in this. The overall plan is to have 100 1-micron 20 kilometer length sails deployed which would carry the satellite to Pluto in 5 years. In a year it would reach 30 km/h and hypothetically 50 km/s. It just brought so much ideas in my head. A constellation of micro satellites around Pluto keeping eye on the Kupier belt and Neptune?

    A great feeling must say. Such a small device can give a country an opportunity in space. Not in my wildest dream.

  • Dmitri May 7, 2013, 10:32

    @a paper on this@
    @30 km/s@

    I actually grave a more consentrated article on this by project members. Anyway will bug them :)

  • andyet May 7, 2013, 11:03

    You have to stop asking “how” and start asking “why”? Answering “how we should go to the stars” is just a technical exercise. Much more difficult to resolve is the the question, “Why should mankind colonize space and expand to the stars”.

    Not to put too fine a pont on it, there is just no financial, scientific or
    defense justification for a large sustained *human* presence in space.
    Defensive spy sats, weather and comsats, robot planetary rovers and orbital
    probes do the job just fine. No human need apply. From a purely “bean
    counter” point of view, even the international space station is a white

    Fortunately life isn’t about bean counting, or even solely about maximizing
    profit. The spirit, élan and morale of a society are at least as important
    as its material wealth, perhaps more important (“Morale is to material as 3
    is to 1”, Napoleon – true in society as well as on the battlefield). Apollo
    was primarily about non material things like national pride, prestige and
    patriotism. However as the world becomes closer and borders blur, such
    chest thumping patriotism has gone out of fashion, and won’t provide the
    impetus for further efforts in space.

    In its mystical aspect Apollo embodied the spirit of its age. Every so
    often in history, a civilization rises up and uses its accumulated economic
    surplus to create something which has no practical value (from a bean
    counter’s point of view) yet is absolutely essential to the morale and
    spirit of its people. The Egyptian pyramids and Gothic cathedrals are two
    examples. The Saturn V rocket in many ways was our Notre Dame or St.
    Peter’s. IMHO we have lately become so mono-fixated on economics that we
    have forgotten that it is the intangibles which make a civilization great.
    “Without a vision, the people perish” – I believe both secular humanists and
    devout theists can agree on that.

    A comparison between the Saturn V rocket and the Gothic cathedrals or
    Egyptian pyramids is IMHO an apt analogy. Perhaps, just perhaps, religious
    faith might provide the necessary spark for a renewed effort in space – and
    not just because many Apollo astronauts experienced a profound religious
    awakening while in space and on the moon.

    So why not a “faith based” space program? How about founding another
    “shining city on a hill”, this time on the Moon. Why not “touch the face of
    God” from orbit? How about a “new Jerusalem” on Mars, free from the
    corruption and immorality of the Old World? As crazy as this may sound, we
    made need to harness the same motivation which built the cathedrals and
    pyramids to send *humans* back into space.

    Apparently there is no rational reason for manned space flight. So perhaps
    we need an irrational reason.

  • Christopher Doll May 7, 2013, 12:49

    Clearly these conferences are going to need to have some model builders in attendance. I’ll start making plans to visit some of these next year and bring some neat “toys”


  • Gregory Benford May 7, 2013, 14:15

    Fortunately there are rational economic reasons for opening the resources of the solar system, and some human presence will be essential. I think, as we’ll discuss at the symposium, there are at least 3 foreseeable technologies that will open opportunities:
    nuclear thermal rockets to move mass
    space-adapted robotics
    3D printing of needed technologies in space

    More to come, no doubt.

  • Donald Goldsmith May 7, 2013, 14:41

    Wouldn’t that be the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination, and doesn’t the man deserve to have his name spelled correctly?

  • Paul Gilster May 7, 2013, 15:25

    Thanks for calling my attention to the typo, which I’ve corrected.

  • Steve Kilston May 7, 2013, 16:04

    In reply to “andyet”, I’d say the two primary reasons for interstellar travel are: 1. Survival — with our sun’s gradual depletion of hydrogen, its increasing brightness and activity after a few more billion years will make life impossible in our solar system (also, nearby supernovae or other astro-hazards could end it much sooner); and 2. Curiosity — we seem to get a thrill from exploring and learning about new places, and this drive has aided human survival and flourishing.
    I’m not sure there is such a thing as an “irrational reason” — explanations and motivations certainly should pay attention to emotional factors. The pursuit of long-term goals and dreams is as vital for our mental and societal health as a concern and empathy for other humans is.
    Children respond with wonder and enthusiasm when they hear about a grand project like interstellar travel. It can continue to magnificently inspire them long after we initiate it. As Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote, “The future belongs to those who give the next generation reason for hope.”

  • andyet May 7, 2013, 16:46

    Dr. Benford,

    The economic activity you describe requires very few humans in space. Instead of the Enterprise (a relative small vessel crammed with hundreds of crewmen), think Nostromo (a space mining and cargo vessel of massive scale which has been automated to the point where it needs a crew of only six people).

    So instead of Star Fleet starting human colonies on the surfaces of planets, we’ll have the Weyland-Yutani Corporation contracting out the space equivalent of oil rig and crab fishing work in the asteroid belt – extremely dirty and dangerous work with a high death rate. But work that makes investors back home extremely wealthy and mankind more prosperous.

    Maybe we’ll have the occasional scientific base established on Mars or floating in the atmosphere of Venus, but they’ll be no bigger than a current Antarctic scientific base and be little more than a PR stunt. It will mostly be roughnecks in space who do their tour and return home to spend their bonuses. They won’t stay in space unless they have to.

    Forget about the Enterprise, our future is Nostromo.

    If you want a truely significant human colonization effort (Mars, Ceres, other asteroids, Jovian moons, KBOs, the Oort cloud, and eventually the stars) – which makes no rational economic or financial sense – you will need an irrational motivator, some sort of religious crusade-like meme promising salvation to space colonists (similar to the religius motivations of the builders of the cathedrals and pyramids).

  • andyet May 7, 2013, 17:02

    Mr. Kilston,

    Survival and curiosity are wonderful things, but they will never be line items on the ledgers of those politicians and investors who would make human colonization of space possible. The decision makers will be intersted in national security and RO,I not ensuring species survival or indulging scientific curiosity (which can be done more cost effectively with unmanned missions). Absent the national pride generated by space missions during the Cold War, and fear of the Soviets getting to the Moon first, our space program went nowhere after Apollo.

    Which suggess another possible motivator for human colonozation of space. If space had been militarized during the Cold War we would have had hundreds of armed space stations, bases, colonies and support infrastructure. All nukes, even nukes in orbit, need humans in the loop to prevent accidental launches (technically, we could fully automate our missile silos but the risk of accidental war is too great). Militarization of space is not a desirable situation, but it would have resulted in a permanent human presence in space.

  • Randy Chung May 7, 2013, 17:42

    I believe the most plausible scenario for sending colonists to another star would be another Great Powers rivalry, like the rivalry between the U.S. and the Soviet Union that started the race to the Moon. One possible rivalry would be between Chinese speaking and English speaking cultures to establish a colony on an unsullied and fertile planet (Eden).

    Interstellar travelers will be essentially independent nations, out of the reach of the home world, and probably would keep only a few laws, customs, and traditions of their home cultures – except language. Nothing material could be economically exchanged between the travelers and the home world, only information like reports and observations, along with cultural items such as TV shows (the Interstellar reality show), movies, e-books, e-magazines, etc.

    It is likely that the first interstellar colonists to survive will dominate their planet, the way colonists from England eventually dominated the territories that became the U.S. Even if it took 500 years for the descendents to return to Earth, it depends on your point of view on whether you’d prefer communicating to them in English or Mandarin Chinese.

    This scenario requires a few other things, like bringing the cost of interstellar travel down to something that both China and the US/England/Australia rivals can afford. The race would start once planet Eden is found and each culture decides it cannot be left behind.

  • Abelard Lindsey May 7, 2013, 17:42

    There is another starship conference taking place in Dallas in August.

    I agree the future is more Nostromo than Enterprise. However, keep in mind the Enterprise is a depiction of a exploratory/military ship whereas the Nostromo is purely a commercial ship. Different ships for different purposes. Today’s container ships and oil tankers also have small crews, about 20 or so. Military carriers have 5,000 crew members.

    If you want a truely significant human colonization effort (Mars, Ceres, other asteroids, Jovian moons, KBOs, the Oort cloud, and eventually the stars) – which makes no rational economic or financial sense – you will need an irrational motivator, some sort of religious crusade-like meme promising salvation to space colonists (similar to the religius motivations of the builders of the cathedrals and pyramids).

    That’s right, since PGM’s are about the only “product” from space that can be sold on Earth for a profit. Human settlement of space will not occur until it becomes self-financing. Dyson made this point in his “Pilgrims, Saints, and Spacemen” article in the August 1979 edition of L-5 News. The real driver of space settlement will be that of self-interested groups seeking freedom and autonomy from Earth-based governments and social systems.

  • CatharSeamus May 7, 2013, 17:43

    The problem to create space colonies is not motivation, but rather energy costs. In order to dramatically reduce the price of Megawatt and be competitive with fossil fuels, we need to make huge capital investments in space-based beamed solar power infrastructure. Mantainance costs will be the main driver of energy prices. Laser-powered reusable vehicles using this cheap energy will be able to make space access to LEO and around the solar system affordable.

    What was the motivation to colonize America? initially, only Spain had the vision that such an exploration investment would be worthwhile. After that, the return on investment become a lot more clearer, and no one had to ask that question again

  • Dmitri May 8, 2013, 5:09

    “In order to dramatically reduce the price of Megawatt and be competitive with fossil fuels, we need to make huge capital investments in space-based beamed solar power infrastructure. Mantainance costs will be the main driver of energy prices. Laser-powered reusable vehicles using this cheap energy will be able to make space access to LEO and around the solar system affordable.”

    This is actually already on table and the waiting is behind lowering the cost of material and production. Russians want to build one MW solar station on orbit and beam the energy down with lasers. They actually made a news reel on this. There is no timeline, rather vision for future.

    How to tame the Sun (Как приручить Солнце (Космонавтика от 040513) )
    (Oh damn, they made the subs available!)

  • Peter May 8, 2013, 7:06

    We don’t really need more lofty philosophical justifications for going into space.

    George Bush, despite his faults, said it well : “This cause of exploration and discovery is not an option we choose; it is a desire written in the human heart.”

  • Eric May 8, 2013, 8:40

    Will there be any discussion of quantum vacuum propulsion in opening up the solar system to economic development? There was an interesting article on ongoing projects at Sonny White’s Eagleworks at JSC, last month in Popular Science.

  • ljk May 8, 2013, 9:35

    Does current humanity have the mental and physical ability to colonize space successfully without augmentations? That remains to be seen. A few trips to the Moon and back and some months circling Earth a few hundred miles above it in some connected tin cans is not quite the same as spending ones entire life in space in conditions perhaps similar to staying in a hotel at best for the initial pioneering period.

    Perhaps people still need some form of religion to focus on in order to survive long enough to establish true colonies in space. Could cosmism do the trick for the more educated space fans?

    As I have said here and elsewhere before, the main human groups that will truly colonize space and reach the stars will be the political dissidents, the religiously oppressed (cults), corporations, and criminals of various stripes seeking escape from Earth. There will be scientists along, but they will more often than not be hitch hikers and not the main reason for going.

    This assumes the Artilects are not sufficiently developed to take over the task or only remain as humanity’s “servants” in their cosmic journeys.





  • Ronald May 8, 2013, 11:07

    andyet: your idea of a non-rational, even religious motivation for space exploration is very interesting.
    However, we know that all major religions are quite ancient and very much ‘earth-focused’ (be it the salvation or damnation of this planet and its inhabitants).
    In my knowledge there is no major religious dogma geared toward a cosmic ‘exodus’ and diaspora of human and earthly life. Pity, exactly that would have been such an enormous moral boost.

    At the same time, I expect that the major incentive for interstellar travel and colonization will be about as Steve Kilston states:
    1) the long-term survival (maybe we should call it risk-spreading) of our species, civilization and earthly life;
    2) the drive to explore and discover;

    Or even beyond that:
    3) the desire to spread the spark of life, our earthly biological life to other habitable but (preferably) not yet inhabited planets, to sow life like a gardener.

    1) is the most practical and easiest to justify, 2) is innate but will be hardest to justify economically, 3) is probably the most ‘spiritual’ of the three.

    Randy Chung: the competitive scenario that you describe may very well be a realistic one. However, I sincerely hope that by that time we humans will have left that kind of politically and ideologically inspired and aggressive competition behind us, and will instead go for a global and more cooperative approach.

    Finally, a thought: the greatest incentives for interplanetary and interstellar exploration and colonization, both practically and mentally, would probably take place in the case of two habitable planets around one star, or habitable planets around both components of binary stars.

  • Dmitri May 8, 2013, 13:47

    Space tourism. Not just LEO or Earth-Moon but further – Mars, Titan, Europe. Why we travel? Why the aviation changed the face of Earth and cultural interaction? What goal SpaceX program has beyond 2015? Virgin Galactic? What if miners on Moon would be next top dog salary earners compared to the oil rig guys? In Norway they make something like $100K a year (minus the taxes). This is short term. In long term, noone knows except we will be dead if noone moves.

    Sport – sport related activities, leagues in space. Surfing in Jovian radiation waves?

    Would that do for motivation?

  • Dmitri May 8, 2013, 13:57

    Mars One received 78 000 applications for their one way trip to Mars mission. 78 000 – 100 0000 is the market size Elon Musk counts on for their commercial Mars roundtrip mission. There is no finite answer or one driver, there is a mix of everything, one or two factors prevailing per person. There won’t be shortage of volunteers and I think Mars One showed Elon Musk calculated the market size quite conservative. Still it’s a small number compared to the world population but we have start somewhere.

  • tom May 9, 2013, 6:44


    “Will there be any discussion of quantum vacuum propulsion in opening up the solar system to economic development? There was an interesting article on ongoing projects at Sonny White’s Eagleworks at JSC, last month in Popular Science.”

    Popular Science:

    Another challenge is that in order to create a warp bubble that moves faster than light, scientists would need to distribute negative energy around a craft, including ahead of it. White doesn’t think this is a problem; when I ask him about it, he says rather vaguely that a warp drive would work because of an “apparatus you have that’s creating the conditions that you need.” But creating those conditions in front of a ship would mean generating a distribution of negative energy that travels faster than light, a violation of the theory of general relativity.

    In saying that a warp drive is
    feasible, White is also saying that he can create a time machine.Finally, warp drive poses a conceptual problem. In general relativity, faster-than-light travel is equivalent to moving about in time. In saying that a warp drive is feasible, White is also saying that he can create a time machine.

    Those obstacles raise some significant doubts. “I don’t think any normal understanding of physics predicts he’s going to see anything in his experiments,” says Ken Olum, a physicist at Tufts University, who served on a panel debating exotic propulsion at the 100 Year Starship gathering in 2011. Noah Graham, a physicist at Middlebury College who read two of White’s papers at my request, wrote in an e-mail: “I don’t see any valid science in either paper beyond the summaries of previous work.”

  • ljk May 9, 2013, 9:07

    A vintage SF slogan:

    “The meek shall inherit the Earth. The rest of us are going to the stars.” :^)

  • ljk May 9, 2013, 9:53

    New book connects the human community to its cosmic roots

    January 8, 2013

    Neil Shubin, PhD

    The 1969 “Woodstock” song by Joni Mitchell, it turns out, was onto something: “We are stardust / billion-year-old carbon.”

    University of Chicago evolutionary biologist, Neil Shubin, PhD, makes that connection between astronomical events and the human species in his new book, “The Universe Within: Discovering the Common History of Rocks, Planets, and People,” a follow up to his 2008 best-seller, “Your Inner Fish.”

    Where “Your Inner Fish” goes back millions of years to look at the evolutionary links between human anatomy and other animals around the world, “The Universe Within” goes back billions of years and extends out to the universe to trace the impact of cosmic events on the human body.

    Shubin explains in the prologue for “The Universe Within” that it became clear while writing his first book that the creatures he initially focused on, such as fish, worms and algae, “are but gateways to ever deeper connections — ones that extend back billions of years before the presence of life and of Earth itself.”

    Full article here:


  • ljk May 9, 2013, 9:53

    How many Gen Xers know their cosmic address?

    Source: University of Michigan

    Posted Tuesday, October 23, 2012

    Less than half of Generation X adults can identify our home in the universe, a spiral galaxy, according to a University of Michigan report.

    “Knowing your cosmic address is not a necessary job skill, but it is an important part of human knowledge about our universe and–to some extent–about ourselves,” said Jon D. Miller, author of “The Generation X Report” and director of the Longitudinal Study of American Youth at the U-M Institute for Social Research.

    The study, funded by the National Science Foundation since 1986, now includes responses from approximately 4,000 adults ages 37-40–the core of Generation X.

    The latest report examines the scientific literacy of Gen Xers about their location in the universe. Miller provided Generation X participants in the study with high-quality image of a spiral galaxy taken by the Hubble space telescope, and asked them to identify the image, first in an open-ended response and then by selecting from multiple choices.

    Full article here:


    To quote:

    “Unlike our distant ancestors who thought the earth was the center of the universe, we know that we live on a small planet in a heliosphere surrounding a moderate-sized star that is part of a spiral galaxy,” Miller said. “There may be important advantages in the short-term–the next million years or so–to knowing where we are and something about our cosmic neighborhood.”

  • Gregory Benford May 9, 2013, 11:28

    The Symposium features John Cramer on warp drive physics, summing up his long piece in the book itself.
    You can follow all the talks streaming at
    May 21-22 and in an online video library later.
    The book is buy-able in limited numbers through Mysterious Galaxy bookstore too.

  • Doug M. May 10, 2013, 5:16

    “The program includes Freeman Dyson, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin, Peter Schwartz, Geoffrey Landis, Ian Crawford, James Benford and John Cramer. Science fiction writers included are Neal Stephenson, Gregory Benford, Allen Steele, Joe Haldeman and David Brin. Other writers attending are Jerry Pournelle, Larry Niven and Vernor Vinge.”

    Does anyone else notice something a little funny about that list?

    Freeman Dyson, bless his heart, is *90* years old. Paul Davies is 67. Robert Zubrin is 61. Peter Schwartz is 67. Geoff Landis is a relative stripling at 58. John Cramer is 79.

    Greg Benford is 72. Allen Steele is a sprightly lad of 55, while Neal Stephenson is barely out of short pants at 54. Joe Haldeman is 70. David Brin is 63. Pournelle is 80. Niven is 75. Vernor Vinge is 69.

    The average age on that list is 68, median is 69.

    Doug M.

  • Doug M. May 10, 2013, 5:31

    Also, I know this is a bit of a delicate topic, but I can’t help but notice that of 16 names on that list, 0% are female and 100% are white.

    Clicking through, I see the book jacket lists several more names not mentioned on your list — I assume because they contributed to the book but won’t be attending. Those include Martin Rees (71), Adam Crowl (age unknown) and — hey, Nancy Kress (65). Average and median ages unchanged; final tally, 94% male, 100% white.

    Yes, both science fiction and space enthusiasts skew white and male. But 100% white and 94% male? I mean, if you watched the Curiosity landing you saw a Mission Control that was about 25% female and that included a moderate sprinkling of ethnic diversity (most notably Bobak Ferdowsi, the Iranian-American “Mohawk Guy”). And it’s not like there are no women or minorities in the space community generally; I’ll bet a lot of people here are fans of Emily Lakdwalla or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. Could the conference organizers not find anyone who wasn’t a white guy over 55 years of age? Did they even try?

    But to return to the age thing: that list of conference participants could have been cut and pasted from 20 years ago. In 1993 it would have been kinda cool and cutting edge. Today… um.

    Doug M.

  • william f collins May 10, 2013, 9:52

    Doug ,
    You raised a fantastically relevant point. I think that Dr Jemison’s efforts stand alone in its efforts to diversify the participants in these efforts to reach for the stars. If space advocates in the US want to increase our relevance and importance to those of us who live in the US, they will have to include serious outreach to Black, Latino, and other than European/Asian- American populations and to women of all races/ethnic groups. The mean age of Blacks and Latinos are ten years younger than their white fellow citizens (the future) and women are majorities among our university populations. It is not political correctness: it is just the smart thing to do

  • Doug M. May 10, 2013, 12:18

    Okay, digging through the website I find this — http://imagination.ucsd.edu/starship/speakers.html — which seems to be the list of speakers. It’s pretty much the same list given above, but there are a few additional names. Out of 19 speakers, there’s now one (1) person who is under 50 years of age (Adam Crowl, born in 1970) and one (1) woman: Jill Tarter. Average age is now 66, median is 68.

    No change to the ethnic mix, or lack thereof.

    Doug M.

  • Marc Millis May 10, 2013, 13:34

    Doug M,
    Thanks for pointing out that disparity of participation.

    Personally, I find it difficult to sort through the gazillions of new folks who might be the next wave of real pioneers. In some cases I have found some minorities and woman who do NOT want to dabble in the higher-risk stuff since they think they are battling enough cultural barriers already. On the other hand, I have found in my years and NASA, etc, that the females and minorities are just as capable, and flawed, as us white males. The variations in personality/capability exist in all those groups, more so than between those groups. I have seen idiots and impressive folks in all flavors.

    Regardless of race/gender, etc., I find my biggest challenge to figure out which of the up-coming folks – those who enthusiastically approach us – are genuinely talented folks. I’ve erred in both ways, confusing enthusiasm for real talent, and overlooking real talent by weirdness repulsion. Exceptional people are not normal, by definition. But that swings both ways, to the useful and detrimentally exceptional.

    There are indeed younger, female, non-white, and even non-straight talents out there. Many are still too early in their careers to be sure of their talent, but I know several that I would invite to present if I were chairing a symposium and had the funds to pay for their travel. I know of many white males in that category too.

    There is also a bias to select presenters who share one’s perspective. On that, I must admit I have been guilty. To get past that bias, I look at how well people construct their work, rather than if their assertions agree with mine. I certainly hope that when funds are available, that the committee for selecting fund distributions can impartially decide based on the degree of progress than on how well ideas match preconceived notions. It’s not easy to do that. Some folks are not even aware that they have this bias – which makes it impossible to correct.

    We shall see.

  • Doug M. May 10, 2013, 17:46

    @William, I agree that it’s not just political correctness. It’s not just a question of public perception. It’s also a question of perception within the relevant fields. Women are currently earning about 40% of the bachelor’s degrees in astronomy and about 33% of the PhDs. Minority representation is harder to track but is estimated at around 15%-20%. In both cases, the numbers have been rising over the last couple of decades — so female and minority astronomers (and physicists, and engineers) tend to skew young.

    So if you have a symposium that’s all white and very nearly all male, you’re signalling to *as many as half of the young professionals in your field* that this is not something that’s for them. Perhaps not the ideal strategy for building a long-term bridge to the future? Just a thought.

    Doug M.

  • Doug M. May 10, 2013, 18:16

    @Marc, is it a disparity of participation? Or of invitation? There are a lot of really competent professionals in space science and astronomy who aren’t white and male, so I’m inclined to guess it’s the latter.

    STEM fields have been getting more diverse every decade, so there is a demographic issue here. Because their numbers have been rising from a low base, women and minorities still skew young. If you look at, say, astronomers, there are a lot more females in the 30-35 demographic than in the 60-65 demographic. So the age of the participants is also relevant: this is a party being thrown by a bunch of guys in their sixties and seventies.

    That said, this is happening in *California* — one of the most ethnically diverse places on Earth. If I were looking for, say, an Iranian-American space engineer with a mohawk, or a Korean-American NASA team chief, or a woman with dual masters degrees in aerospace engineering and in technology policy from MIT… California is the first place I’d look.

    (Those aren’t hypothetical examples, of course. I’m citing Bobak Ferdowsi, Pauline Hwang, and Erisa Hines — all three of whom were part of the Mission Control team at JPL Pasadena when Curiosity landed.)

    Doug M.

  • Marc Millis May 10, 2013, 22:04


    Regarding participation or invitation limits? Good point.

    Some day I hope we have enough resources to cast out an invitation for new submissions (papers or proposals) – the hardest part being getting a squad of decent and impartial reviewers, and the other hard part of getting enough funding for awards. Meanwhile, with all the other conferences going on, I just keep my eye out for who’s making unique and well-constructed contributions… and just keep working on our own ideas as time allows.


  • Dr. Eric W. Davis May 20, 2013, 15:54

    To Doug M.:

    Sir, the greatest problem with STEMS (K-12 & higher) education in the U.S. has been the recruitment of non-minority females and minority males & females who can successfully pursue higher education, graduate, go to graduate school to earn advanced professional degrees, and then get a professional job to start their careers. Physics Today Magazine published news articles about this over the past 10 years and the problems with getting more women of any stripe into any of the STEMS (but physics in particular) have been written about since the 1980s. The overarching problem was found to be the way that American families, and society in general, socializes female offspring. American families (historically) do not have aspirations for their daughters to grow up and become the next Einstein or Hawking or Millis and Davis, etc. Instead, they are socialized to become mothers or super-moms (who work and raise kids at the same time) in a variety of non-STEMS careers that are seen to be “woman-centric”.

    The number of young women entering professional STEMS fields is extremely small and limited to only those few young women who come from families that are actually supportive of their daughters pursuing a STEMS career as opposed to the usual women-centric careers favored by most American families.

    The problem for racial minorities in STEMS is also cultural, family-socialization-related, and financial (per financial access to higher education opportunities during an era of declining state and federal government support), etc. (I am not addressing immigrant minorities here because there is a spectrum of them with different social-cultural problems and issues.)

    But at the end of the day, the professions of interstellar exploration and breakthrough propulsion physics are still so new, so young, and not so very well-known that it will take a few generations of college graduates before a critical mass of minority and female STEMS students interested in pursuing a professional STEMS career in either or both of those two topics is reached.

    Right now, the general rule of thumb is that the type of student that is socialized to pursue STEMS educations and careers are the usual “geeks”. And there are far fewer female geeks (of any race) than there are male geeks of any race. And of those geeks, perhaps only 0.01% of them pursue interstellar exploration and BPP careers. That pretty much leaves you with me, Marc Millis, and a couple of dozen others (all males). I am now mentoring two “geek” female college students that are interested in pursuing STEMS college education to eventually acquire a job in the interstellar exploration and BPP careers.

    But keep in mind that STEMS careers like interstellar exploration and BPP are not now the norm. Careers in these two topics are the rare exception. That is because a huge cultural and economic driver for developing a large enough population of STEMS college students that are interested in pursuing interstellar flight and/or BPP professions is the existence of industrial and academic careers that those students can aspire to for gainful employment after earning their degrees. At present, such industrial and academic careers in interstellar exploration and BPP don’t exist. These topics are now in the “pioneer” era whereby the pioneers like myself, my AIAA book co-editor Marc Millis, and our TZF cohorts are “Lewis & Clarking” the very first trails that we hope will one day establish a critical mass of steady, long-term, well-funded, high-paying industry and academic careers that will fuel the enrollment of young female and minority STEMS students. We will also have to blaze new trails into higher education to make sure that the interstellar exploration and BPP subjects are taught as part of existing degree programs or as specific disciplines of study that lead to a degree.

  • Eric W.Davis May 21, 2013, 1:39

    To Doug M:

    The numbers that you cited for the percentages of Bachelor and PhD degrees earned by woman and minorities are incorrect. The 2012 Physics Today education/career survey for Bachelor and PhD degree holders presents data that do not agree with your assertions. See: http://www.physicstoday.org/resource/1/phtoad/v65/i2/p47_s1?bypassSSO=1

    Here is additional survey info from the American Institute of Physics:

    There is also the SPIE 2012 scientific and engineering career and salary survey which is a global survey of anyone who works with optics and lasers. Here is the survey results by gender:

    There are also serious professional-cultural barriers to women and minorities in STEMs careers: http://diverseeducation.com/article/13644/#

    And this article reports the low percentages of women and minorities with STEM degrees:

    It has been noted elsewhere that women are represented in astronomy at a decent level compared with other STEM fields. But keep in mind that astronomers are not generally interested in interstellar space flight and/or breakthrough propulsion physics subjects and related conferences because those are physics and engineering disciplines, so astromomers do not participate. I know Jill Tarter and she is only marginally interested in interstellar flight because of the astrobiology angle associated with SETI studies and exoplanet discoveries. However, we might see more participation in the future by inviting astronomers and astrobiologists associated with exoplanet searches to address future interstellar flight conferences.

    As for your other comments about the women and minorities working as NASA-JPL Mars rover mission controllers and scientists or working on other planetary missions, folks like these are not invited to attend or otherwise present at interstellar flight conference venues because they have no known professional interest or published research in this topic. Many astronomers and physicists do not accept interstellar flight as viable, so there is already a professional bias against this topic and related conference venues. Conference venues usually only invite like-minded collaborators. So it is difficult to reach out to other STEM professionals and invite them to interstellar flight venues without knowing a priori their interest in the topic. It is a good idea if future conference venues were to begin broader advertising campaigns to reach out to such folks because a few people with an interest in interstellar flight might come out of the woodwork.

    But what I said in my previous post still remains the largest issue: BPP and interstellar flight are still too new and not well known across all STEM professionals and college students. It will take a few college student generations to build a critical mass of STEMs professionals who could participate in BPP/interstellar flight studies and conferences in larger, younger numbers.

  • william collins May 23, 2013, 22:07

    Dr. Davis – You make some very cogent points. I understand that population projections depict that white americans will be a minority among the under 18 cohort by 2019 (!). The US cannot import all of its future STEM personnel needs – this country must look to home grow its own future STEM needs. In the same way that you , Paul, Marc, et al, reach out via conferences, the media , etc., I believe that you can work to
    reach out to people who are determined to increase the presense of non-Asian people of color and women in general in the interstellar future. The Star Trek show was fascinating- though every contribuetor save one(?) was a white male babyboomer.
    It would help if something more concrete came out of the various theories re: interstellar space travel. Here is the thing. While I strongly suspect that traversable wormholes, warp drives, and FTL propulsion systems are similar to alchemy, perpetual motion machines, and human teleportation – mythical and mystical. I believe that himans will travel to the stars albeit more slowly – STL propulsion. I just want/hope tosee my natin’s contribution to be as diverse as, well the crews who woreked for Captains Picard ,Sisco, and Janeway.
    Finally, I have read treatises from the first forty years of the 20th century in which scholars stated categorically that southern/eastern europeans – Slavs, Jews, Italians, etc – were socially, intellectually, and culturally imopssible to be assimilated into our beloved nation. We know how that has turned out.

  • william f collins May 24, 2013, 19:16

    As minorities become the voting majority, their votes will greatly effect the determination of the directions for future funding. In this country, a diverse space advocacy community is an absolute imperative if our country is to really remain at the top or at least among the most influential participants in humanity’s transformation into a space faring race.

  • ljk May 29, 2013, 18:09

    Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society encountered her own gender inequality experience at a recent space symposium….

    Speaking engagements next week: Spacefest V and Society for Astronomical Sciences symposium

    Posted By Emily Lakdawalla

    2013/05/17 02:10 CDT

    Full details here: