Voyager 1, which is now in the outermost layer of the heliosphere that forms the boundary between the Solar System and interstellar space, is set to be the first man-made object to leave the Solar System. It has taken the car-sized probe over 35 years to reach its current point, but at its current speed of about 3.6 AU (334,640,905 miles) per year it would take over 75,000 years to reach our nearest star, Proxima Centauri. Despite the mind-boggling distances involved, DARPA has just awarded funding to form an organization whose aim is to make human interstellar travel a reality within the next century.
DARPA awarded US$500,000 in seed funding to the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence to form 100 Year Starship (100YSS), an independent, non-governmental initiative that will call on experts from a variety of fields (artists and entertainers will get a say alongside scientists, engineers and others) to develop the capabilities for human interstellar flight “as soon as possible, and definitely within the next 100 years.”
“Yes, it can be done. Our current technology arc is sufficient,” said Dr. Mae Jamison, a former NASA astronaut, creator of the winning 100YSS proposal and leader of the new organization. “100 Year Starship is about building the tools we need to travel to another star system in the next 100 years.”
The first year of the ambitious project will involve searching for investors, establishing membership opportunities, encouraging public participation in research projects, and developing the visions for interstellar exploration.
A public symposium will also be held in Houston, Texas, from September 13 to 16, 2012, in what will be an annual event “open to scientific papers, engineering challenges, philosophical and socio-cultural considerations, economic incentives, application of space technologies to improve life on Earth, imaginative exploration of the stumbling blocks and opportunities to the stars, and broad public involvement.”
The 100YSS initiative will also see the establishment of a scientific research institute called “The Way” that will focus on speculative, long-term science and technology.
“We’re embarking on a journey across time and space,” says Dr. Jemison. “If my language is dramatic, it is because the project is monumental. This is global aspiration. And each step of the way, its progress will benefit life on Earth. Our team is both invigorated and sobered by the confidence DARPA has in us to start an independent, private initiative to help make interstellar travel a reality.”