Ross Shulman sent in this great post by (one of my favorite) current science fiction writers Charles Stross about how you might design a generational starship to handle the vast distances and time involved in space travel. Excellent read. (excerpt below)
If you can crank yourself up to 1% of light-speed, alpha centauri is more than four and a half centuries away at cruising speed. To put it in perspective, that’s the same span of time that separates us from the Conquistadores and the Reformation; it’s twice the lifespan of the United States of America.
We humans are really bad at designing institutions that outlast the life expectancy of a single human being. The average democratically elected administration lasts 3-8 years; public corporations last 30 years; the Leninist project lasted 70 years (and went off the rails after a decade). The Catholic Church, the Japanese monarchy, and a few other institutions have lasted more than a millennium, but they’re all almost unrecognizably different. More here…
Below I also include an image to give some perspective to the distances we would have to cover. It comes from another good piece about escaping earth in a few billion years when the sun dies (via the National Superconducting Cyclotron Lab).