Friday, October 7, 2011

One Big Idea: 100 Year Starship

DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) has set-up ('seeded') the The 100 Year Starship™ Study. This is nothing less than a direct and concerted effort to "develop a viable and sustainable model for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel practicable and feasible." 

Yep. The folks at DARPA want us to start researching how to actually build starships and go boldly forth into the cold void of space and start colonizing planets. According to the About page, this study owes its origin to a desire to foster a rebirth of a sense of wonder among students, academia, industry, researchers and the general populace. But not just rekindling a sense of wonder will be enough. They seek to encourage people to seriously begin to ask "Why Not?" and they intend to encourage people to not just consider this stuff, but to get busy with research and development focused on the challenges inherent in long term, long distance space travel with an emphasis on making it technologically achievable and economically viable.

Being DARPA, the military applications of all of this renewed 'sense of wonder,' and 'Why Not' asking will be the real emphasis and goal, but any number of the 'useful, unanticipated consequences' of this research  could lead to tons of life-improving and even life saving advances, not just new ways to blow enemies to tiny bits. It sounds like a think-tank for science fiction authors, but it is really a lot more than anything quite so prosaic as that.

It could also lead to some rather startling discoveries since this project explicitly seeks to address some questions such as:
  • How do organizations evolve and maintain focus and momentum for 100 years or more?
  • What models have supported long term technology development?
  • What resources and financial structures have initiated and sustained prior settlements of "new worlds?"
DARPA is supported in this effort by NASA Ames Research Center, who will act as the execution agent on DARPA's behalf.

You can find out more at the 100 Year Starship site: http://www.100yss.org/index.html

This is a real study, backed by DARPA and NASA and taking place right now.
They are trying to figure out how to make all that funny Buck Rogers Sci-Fi stuff about traveling to the outer reaches of space and back again to actually work.
Considering how short a time it took the DARPA Grand Challenge Contest to produce viable working models for driverless vehicles...this study might be able to spur some similar advances that could bring about some results much earlier than a century out from now. Maybe we won't have to wait 100 years for a prototype starship.

Who knows where this study might lead...

The most recent Press Release is below:

IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                                            October 2, 2011
Public Symposium Focuses Attention on Future Scientific Challenges
The 100 Year Starship Public Symposium wrapped up today in Orlando, Florida. The event
promoted a compelling dialog among academia, business, the public and government about
issues related to long term, long distance exploration. The event was convened with the intent
that the knowledge gained would be directly relevant to the Department of Defense (DoD).
“We achieved our objective,” said David Neyland, DARPA Tactical Technology Office
Director. “Discussions at the event were both rigorously technical and profoundly thought
Symposium attendees were exposed to presentations such as “Nuclear Thermal Propulsion,”
“Combined Imaging, Power Generation and Distribution, Propulsion and Communication
Subsystems” and “Pulsar Navigation and Maser Navigation.” Not only were attendees able to
hear from industry luminaries, they were encouraged to share their own ideas.
Neyland continued, “For DARPA, our mission is the warfighter, and the scientific advances that may come out of an aspirational goal such as what we’ve started here could lead to advances in defense. Energy innovations could mean our soldiers don’t have to carry 45 lbs. of batteries with them in theater. If we can innovate food production for long-term flights, we can generate food at forward operating bases even in harsh environments. And of particular interest to me, the event’s discussions about metamaterials and propulsion have direct relevance to next-generation DoD platforms.”
By tapping new audiences, the DoD will benefit from fresh insights that can help it solve some
of the most profound challenges in supporting and protecting men and women in uniform.

-ENDMedia with inquiries, contact DARPA Public Affairs, DARPAPublicAffairsOffice@darpa.mil 

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