This column is
about the Starship Century Symposium (SCS), held on May 21 and 22, 2013 at the
2011 David Neyland of DARPA and Pete Worden of NASA's Ames Research Center
decided to invest a modest amount of federal funds as seed money in an
initiative that would encourage developments that could take humanity to the
stars in the next 100 years. After
receiving advice of a preceding workshop, they organized the
Year Starship Symposium, held in
DARPA/NASA initiative envisioned the creation of a private foundation that would
raise funds, attract the interest of businesses, and provide continuity over the
coming century to develop the will and the technology to go to the stars.
In the words of their initial press release, "the 100-Year Starship study will examine the business model needed to
develop and mature a technology portfolio enabling long-distance manned space
flight a century from now. This goal will require sustained investments of
intellectual and financial capital from a variety of sources."
funds of $500,000 was set aside for the project, and a proposal competition was
held, with the winner to receive that funding to form a foundation.
Several organizations already existed that were aimed at the development
of interstellar travel, including the British Interplanetary Society
(established 1933; website http://www.bis-space.com),
the Tau Zero Foundation (2004; website http://www.centauri-dreams.org),
and Icarus Interstellar (2011; website http://www.icarusinterstellar.org).
The ultimate winner of the
DARPA/NASA competition and funding was the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for
Excellence (1994), which has now formed the new 100 Year Starship (or 100YSS)
organization and is arranging annual gatherings in
At the conclusion of the 2011 Orlando 100 Year Starship Symposium, James and Gregory Benford announced that they planned a book based on the Symposium, which would be in part technical papers and in part hard science fiction stories based on the project. Any profits generated by the sale of the book would go to the starship project. The resulting book, entitled Starship Century: Toward the Grandest Horizon, will be officially published in August, 2013, and a pre-publication edition was made available at the Starship Century Symposium. The book includes science fact articles by Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Martin Rees, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin, Peter Schwartz, Geoffery Landis, Ian Crawford, James Benford, Adam Crowl, and John Cramer. In particular, I wrote the article entitled "Exotic Technologies for Interstellar Travel", which discussed space drives, warp drives, and wormholes. The Starship Century book also included science fiction stories by Neal Stephenson, Gregory Benford, Stephen Baxter, Allen Steele, Joe Haldeman, David Brim, Nancy Kress, and Richard Lovett.
The Starship Century Symposium followed the rough outlines of the book and included some very interesting talks. There was a live video webcast of the talks while the Symposium was in progress, and by mid-June the site (http://imagination.ucsd.edu/starship) has promised to provide a video archive of the 45 minute talks given at the Symposium, so that interested viewers can stream them to their computers and TVs.
Now let me describe the
Symposium. In the Tuesday Morning
Session, futurist Peter Schwartz reviewed the political and sociological aspects
of various scenarios that might lead to interstellar exploration and travel,
some inspiring and others rather ugly. Freeman
Dyson described what might be called an "organic" approach to
interstellar travel and exploration, a vision involving the genetic-engineered
development of warm-blooded plants that could thrive in the low-light vacuum
The last talk of the morning was by a group led by Neal Stephenson, noted SF author. They presented a "thinking big" construction project, a 20 kilometer high tower from which space vehicles could be launched and that might provide a springboard for innovation and inspiration. The formidable engineering problems of material strength and resistance to wind forces, and the sociological problems of generating support and funding for the project were addressed by members of his team.
In the Tuesday
Afternoon Session, Patti Grace Smith, former Associate Administrator for
Commercial Space Transportation for the Federal Aviation Administration
described the potential role of government in general and the FAA in particular
in space development. Dr. Geoffery
Landis of the
In the Wednesday
Morning Session, Adam Crowl, Icarus Interstellar Board Member, Icarus Core
Designer, and Module Leader of Primary Propulsion, gave a nice review of the
proposed designs for space vehicles with the potential for interstellar travel,
including photon rockets, pulsed nuclear propulsion, deuterium-fueled fusion
rockets, and antimatter drives. Jim
Benford, co-editor of the Starship
Century book and President of Microwave Sciences, Inc., presented
concepts involving light sails driving starships by reflecting laser light or
microwaves. He showed a movie of a
conical carbon-fiber reflector levitated by a beam of microwaves and made to
spin from the angular momentum of incident circularly-polarized microwaves.
I gave the next talk, which was based on my May-2012 AV Column "
Shooting Wormholes to the Stars". My
basic premise was that if one can create a microscopic wormhole mouth and give
it the charge-to-mass ratio of a proton, it can be accelerated to near
light-speed with existing accelerator technology, e.g., the LHC.
Then because of relativistic time dilation, as viewed through the
wormhole itself, the tiny "wormhole starship" will reach the stars in
a matter of days or weeks, instead of the decades or centuries required by
alternative technologies. The final
talk of the morning was given by astronomer Ian Crawford, Professor of Planetary
Science and Astrobiology at
In the Wednesday
Afternoon Session, Paul Davies, wearing his astrobiologist hat, discussed the
compatibility of life originating on Earth with the life we may find on planets
of other stars systems. His
conclusion was that extra-solar life is likely to be biologically very different
in its structure, and we can expect massive incompatibilities.
Then came a break with the stream of hard-science talks that had occupied
most of the Symposium. Artist Jon
Lomberg described a garden he had designed and created in
Overall, this was one of the best conferences it has been my privilege to attend. The talks were all excellent, perhaps because many of them were summaries of the written material in the Starship Century book and had been carefully thought out well in advance of the Symposium. As I said above, there are plans to make the talks from the Symposium available as streaming videos from the Starship Century site (http://imagination.ucsd.edu/starship) . I recommend them for your viewing pleasure and enlightenment.
The Starship Century book is available at for purchase at http://www.starshipcentury.com .
SF Novels by John Cramer: my two hard SF novels, Twistor and Einstein's Bridge, are newly released as eBooks and are available at : http://bookviewcafe.com/bookstore/?s=Cramer .
Columns Online: Electronic
reprints of about 170 "The Alternate View" columns by John G. Cramer,
previously published in
Exit to the website.