100 Year Starship

By | October 19, 2010
This is the most up-to-date DARPA logo.

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It’s tantalizing in its lack of specificity:

NASA Ames Director Simon “Pete” Worden revealed Saturday that NASA Ames has “just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,” with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA.

“You heard it here,” said Worden at “Long Conversation,” a Long Now Foundation event in San Francisco. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” Dr. Worden added. (No further details on this are available from NASA at this time.)[Emphasis added.]

So what might be the goal of a project with such an auspicious name? We can only imagine that it’s to produce a starship over the course of a century.

A century is both a useful and a misleading unit of time to use for such a project.

It’s useful because, as we have discussed on recent editions of the podcast, the technology challenges that would have to be overcome to produce a true star drive are immense. Brian Wang talks about us getting to interstellar capability by working our way up the Kardashev Scale. Plus, it’s good to think in terms of centuries because — even with starships that can achieve a substantial percentage of light speed — trips to anything but the closest of stars will take hundreds of years to complete. 

On the other hand, a century is a long time from now, and an awful lot can change between today and 2110. Progress in parallel disciplines might have a lot to say about how and whether we ever undertake star travel. Depending on what happens, a century might become an infinitely long period of time.

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  • stephentg

    A project like this: almost certain to be a failure as conceived now; almost certain to give us surprise successes.