Hundred Year Starship: An Apollo-like Push to the Stars?
But, to get there, let’s go to the moons of Mars first, said Worden as he announced a DARPA-funded NASA Ames program to kick start a “hundred year starship” program with $1 million seed money and $100K from NASA. The announcement didn’t come from the White House, however. Worden revealed the new program at San Francisco Bay Area’s Long Conversation, an “epic relay” of one-to-one conversations in conjunction with a performance of the Zen-like Longplayer, a 1,000 year long musical composition that has been playing since 1999.
While the initial investment is not likely to result in a new Apollo-like program to send a human to Alpha Centari in ten (or even a hundred) years, it just might attract the attention of billionaire private investors such as Larry Page of Google to really kick start it. KurzweilAI quotes Worden, “I think we’ll be on the moons of Mars by 2030 or so. Larry [Page] asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, ‘Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?’ So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price.”
Today’ propulsion systems don’t quite provide the fictional Starship Enterprise’s Warp drive capabilities – creating a subspace bubble to envelop the starship, distorting the local spacetime continuum, and moving the starship at velocities (warp factors) that exceed the speed of light. H+ talked with former NASA propulsion physicist Marc Millis earlier in the year to ask about the feasibility of such technologies. He says our current knowledge of gravity and faster-than-light physics is highly speculative and fraught with paradox. He also says, however, that the propulsion options are numerous to get to Mars given today’s technology, “…depending upon how much you want to take with you… there’s either nuclear-thermal propulsion or variations where the nuclear reactor is part of the actual rocket engine.”
(Photo courtesy of Kevin Parker.) Nuclear propulsion, in fact, may be used in conjunction with solar and electric propulsion to build a hundred year starship. But if power can be beamed to the ship using microwave thermal propulsion, then “… you don’t have to carry all the fuel; and then you use that [microwave] energy… to heat a propellant,” says Worden. H+ has been in contact with several companies involved in developing electric power beaming by the use of either microwaves or lasers. Dmitriy Tseliakhovich, founder of Escape Dynamics LLC, wants to go a step further. Collaborating with the research groups of Professor Harry Atwater at Caltech and Dr. Kevin Parkin from the Carnegie Mellon University located at NASA Ames Research Center, Singularity University, Autodesk, Microwave Sciences and other companies, Tseliakhovich wants to develop a prototype microwave thermal thruster using beamed propulsion. With an infusion of capital based on the prototype, they hope to drop the cost of space access by more than “an order of magnitude” and “finally open space for medium- and small-size businesses.”
If Stephen Hawking is right, then we humans must colonize space in order to survive:
It will likely take the will and vision of a John Kennedy to fully initiate the 21st Century equivalent of a “flags and footprints” Apollo program to the stars – not very likely given today’s political climate. But it may be possible that a NASA-led but venture-funded ship similar to Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo could be our ticket to a new home in the sun.