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DARPA issues call for notions on Starship-for-2111 plan

'We want an organisation able to squash the USA like a bug'

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Wild-hare Pentagon boffinry bureau DARPA continues to forge ahead with its radical plan to get the first manned interstellar spaceships headed out of the solar system by the year 2111.

The military tech agency yesterday issued a call for papers to be presented at the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium which is to be held in Florida this October.

According to DARPA, the symposium "is expected to attract roughly hundreds of people from around the world".

“This won’t just be another space technology conference – we’re hoping that ethicists, lawyers, science fiction writers, technologists and others, will participate in the dialog to make sure we’re thinking about all the aspects of interstellar flight,” says David Neyland, DARPA bigwig.

“This is a great opportunity for people with interesting ideas to be heard, which we believe will spur further thought, dreaming and innovation.”

The agency notes that Jules Verne wrote his scientifiction classic From the Earth to the Moon in 1865, and just 104 years later the first men actually walked on the lunar surface, so perhaps the lofty 2111 goal may really be possible. (The Pentagon men obviously don't care to mention Cyrano de Bergerac's L'Autre Monde: Où les États et Empires de la Lune, written in 1650, as this would mean no starship for 319 years or more.)

Things that DARPA - and the NASA Ames staffers overseeing the project for them - would like to see discussed at the symposium include:

Time/space manipulation and/or dilation, near speed of light navigation, faster than light navigation, observations and sensing at near speed of light or faster than light...

Implications of finding habitable worlds, implications of finding life elsewhere, implications of being left behind...

To have gravity or not [inside the ships], space and radiation effects, environmental toxins, energy collection and use, agriculture, self-supporting environments, optimal habitat sizing...

Criteria for destination selection, what do you take...

As regular readers of our 100 Year Starship coverage thus far will know, DARPA and NASA plan to sidestep the tricky question funding for the starship(s) by triggering off "the creation of a self-sustaining organization that will tackle all the issues and challenges", as opposed to having the US government do it.

This organisation might perhaps resemble the Long Range Foundation from Robert Heinlein's classic Time For The Stars, a miracle non-profit which becomes wealthy enough to fund star travel by making long-range, high-payoff investments in such things as weather control.

One slight snag on this - assuming that DARPA can actually kick off such an amazing gesellschaft - is that the LRF-a-like setup would seem likely to become enormously more wealthy and powerful than the US government. Certainly any hardware capable of getting humans to other stars would seem likely to be powerful enough to devastate the planet Earth if misused.

DARPA says that "unanticipated consequences of such research – benefits from improved propulsion to energy storage and life support – can ultimately be expected to benefit the Department of Defense and NASA, as well as the private and commercial sector".

Even so, the emergence of some kind of extranational superpower might not seem to some US taxpayers as a goal they should be aiming for.

Others, though - and perhaps the rest of us - might well be glad that people are trying to get humanity spread beyond our home solar system, a goal essential to the long-term survival of the race (though our chances get a lot better simply by spreading off Earth).

We here on the Reg space desk will be wishing the 100 Year Starship project all the luck in the world, while acknowledging that that's just what they're going to need. ®

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