Last February, Centauri Dreams described the formation of a new foundation, a private nonprofit (501c3) corporation dedicated to supporting the advances in science, technology and education that may one day enable us to reach the stars. Conceived by Marc Millis, former head of NASA’s Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program, the foundation aims to support a carefully chosen group of researchers whose work is directed at this goal. On that occasion, I described the fledgling foundation’s need for a name and asked for comments from readers. Now that the choice has been made and the necessary legal work accomplished, it’s time to announce the advent of the Tau Zero Foundation.
Inspired by the Poul Anderson novel of the same name and seconded by a number of readers, Tau Zero seemed a natural fit. Tau refers to the Greek letter representing proper time in relativistic equations. Tau Zero refers to what happens when one approaches light-speed and one’s proper time shrinks compared to the surrounding universe. Thus the premise of the Anderson novel, as an interstellar craft unable to stop accelerating takes an inadvertent grand tour of the cosmos. Anderson, who passed away in 2001, remains highly regarded as a science fiction writer whose work reflects sound and thoughtful science. He wrote often of interstellar flight and is believed to have inspired many students to become scientists and engineers. In February 2006, his widow, Karen Anderson, granted permission for the Foundation to use this name as well as joining the Foundation as one of its advocates herself.
Centauri Dreams‘ next post will be a statement by foundation founder Marc Millis discussing the goals and composition of the organization. An older background statement with more detail about the group’s structure is available, and all these documents will be be updated when the foundation’s Web site becomes operational. The Tau Zero Foundation is still in its infancy, but Centauri Dreams will continue to report on its growth and progress as events warrant. And as the foundation grows, this site will grow with it, continuing to report on developments in interstellar science that may bring the grand goal just a little closer.
A final thought: the motto of the foundation is ad astra incrementis. The Latin word incrementis is the root of English ‘incremental,’ a fitting thought given the nature of the challenge. Translated literally, ad astra incrementis means ‘to the stars in steps, with each step larger than the last.’ Going to the stars is not likely to be the result of a single breakthrough, but rather thousands of small, incremental discoveries that build upon each other.
The goal of the Tau Zero Foundation is to ensure that those early steps are taken now, so that some day people working with technologies far more advanced than our own may complete the work of reaching nearby stars and giving humanity the means to thrive beyond Earth. If that is a future most of us may never live to see, it is enough to know that we played some role in bringing it about.