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Short news cycle meets long-term thinking

by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander on November 2nd, 02010

Long Conversation – Pete Worden Announces 100-Year Starship from

As part of our Long Conversation event on October 16th, NASA Ames Director Pete Worden discussed a new DARPA/NASA research endeavor he called the “100 Year Starship” (see above).  This small mention originally reported by Amara Angelica at the Kurzweil AI blog has sparked a bit of a media dust up with over 70 stories including Nature, Wired, MSNBC and even Fox news trying to turn it into a cover up (bizarre considering he announced it).  A few days ago DARPA released an official press release on this project (text of which is below and here is the actual PDF).  The release outlines how nascent and speculative this “project” really is.

At Long Now we are obviously happy to see the press taking interest in such a long-term story.  It seems to have captured quite a bit of imagination — and speculation.  However as you can tell from the press release it is not as though we are going to be hopping on our interstellar space ship tomorrow.  Not only will the ride take at least a century, the road to having the technology is likely a century or two out itself.  Pete Worden, NASA and DARPA should be praised for taking the first steps to think on this scale.  This type of thinking is both rare and brave.

“Throughout history technical challenges have inspired generations to achieve scientific breakthroughs of lasting impact. Several decades ago, for instance, the race to the moon sparked a global excitement surrounding space exploration that persists to this day. The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the NASA Ames Research Center have teamed together to take the first step in the next era of space exploration — a journey between the stars.

“The 100-Year Starship study will examine the business model needed to develop and mature a technology portfolio enabling long-distance manned spaceflight a century from now. This goal will require sustained investments of intellectual and financial capital from a variety of sources. The yearlong study aims to develop a construct that will incentivize and facilitate private co-investment to ensure continuity of the lengthy technological time horizon needed.

“‘The 100-Year Starship study is about more than building a spacecraft or any one specific technology,’ said Paul Eremenko, DARPA coordinator for the study. ‘We endeavor to excite several generations to commit to the research and development of breakthrough technologies and cross-cutting innovations across a myriad of disciplines such as physics, mathematics, biology, economics, and psychological, social, political and cultural sciences, as well as the full range of engineering disciplines to advance the goal of long-distance space travel, but also to benefit mankind.’

“DARPA also anticipates that the advancements achieved by such technologies will have substantial relevance to Department of Defense (DoD) mission areas including propulsion, energy storage, biology/life support, computing, structures, navigation, and others. Beyond the DoD and NASA, these investments will reinvigorate private entrepreneurs, the engineering and scientific community, and the world’s youth in a bold quest for the stars.

“The 100-Year Starship study looks to develop the business case for an enduring organization designed to incentivize breakthrough technologies enabling future spaceflight.”

[October 28th 02010, DARPA news release. Media with inquiries, contact DARPA Public Affairs, DARPAPublicAffairsOffice@darpa.mil]

(Update:  Another good analysis and update from the Centauri Dreams blog)