It has been forty years since man has walked on the moon and it is about time we head out into space again. Some say we should go back to the moon, and maybe set up bases. Others believe a trip to Mars is due. But traveling within our solar system is for stay-at-homes and wimps. We need to go to the stars.
Luckily for us DARPA, the same people who gave us the Internet, are already studying the matter. According to this article in Popular Mechanics, they have organized the 100 year Starship symposium to explore ways to reach the stars. This is no easy matter, of course. The 100 years refers to the amount of time they expect it will take to surmount the difficulties.
The problem of building a starship is so difficult that DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office director and manager for the project, David Neyland, figures it will take 100 years just to learn how to pull it off, hence the project’s name. But while traveling to the stars is a far-off goal, Neyland says that just working on the problem will allow the Department of Defense (of which DARPA is a part) to reap very practical benefits now. “We literally send millions—millions—of MREs, little packaged foodstuffs, to our troops in the field overseas. Is there a better way? Well, if you solve the problem for long-duration, long-distance spaceflight for food supplies, what could you do in terms of the Department of Defense for forward-operating locations?” Solving the problem of energy production on a starship that will have to remain powered up for a decades-long journey could similarly produce major benefits for the military.
Here’s a preview of the enormous problems facing the DARPA conference attendees who dream of interstellar travel. We’ll keep you updated on the wild proposals they come up with to overcome these challenges.
To start with, our rocket technology of the present doesn’t even begin to be effective in traveling such great distances.
It starts with propulsion—simply figuring out how to travel interstellar distances. Chemical rockets, the kind that got us to the moon, just won’t get us to the stars. “You need more fuel than exists mass in the known universe,” says physicist Richard Obousy, president of Icarus Interstellar. Alternatives such as nuclear fission, nuclear fusion, and even antimatter propulsion systems will be on the table here.
And of course, there is the difficulty of keeping the crew supplied and motivated for a journey which may take decades or centuries. Any starship we send out will have to be completely self-sufficient. If they break down, no one will be able to rescue them.
I am a little disappointed that star travel is not likely to occur in my lifetime. Perhaps, I should look into cryogenics, have my corpse frozen for later revival.