Pentagon dreams of Star Trek interstellar travel

Jun 16, 2011 By SETH BORENSTEIN , AP Science Writer

The Defense Department first proposed Star Wars. Now it wants Star Trek.

DARPA, the Pentagon's research agency that helped foster the Internet, wants someone to dream up a way to send people to a star.

The winner will get half a million dollars for the idea. This month 150 competitors answered the federal government's initial call for private sector cosmic ideas. Officials say some big names are among those interested. The plan is to make interstellar travel possible in about a century.

The Defense Department is known for big spending and big ideas. It devised a space-based missile defense system in the 1980s known as "Star Wars." Its new trademarked 100-year Starship Study concept comes from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency. The agency is spending a total of $1 million on the project. After presentations are made this fall at a conference in Orlando, Fla., DARPA will decide in November who gets the money.

The grant would be "seed money" to help someone start thinking about the idea and then get it off the ground in the private sector, David Neyland, director of DARPA's tactical technology office, said in a Thursday teleconference.

This isn't about going to a nearby planet, like Mars. And it's not about using robotic probes, which doesn't interest the Defense Department, Neyland said.

But even the nearest star beyond our sun is 25 trillion miles away. The fastest rocket man has built would take more than 4,000 years to get there. This isn't just about thinking new rocket methods, Neyland said. It's also about coping with extended life in space, raising issues of medicine, agriculture, ethics and self-reliance, he said.

Among those who showed an interest in the project earlier this year is millionaire scientist Craig Venter, one of those who mapped the human genome and is now working on artificial life and alternative fuels.

"We want to capture the imagination of folks," Neyland said.

Not everyone agrees with spending money this way. Steve Ellis, vice president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, said, "When you look at the universe - pun intended - of things we have to spend money on, this has to be pretty down on the priority list."

Explore further: Lockheed Martin successfully mates NOAA GOES-R satellite modules

More information: DARPA's 100-year Starship Study: www.100yss.org

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User comments : 43

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Shootist
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 16, 2011
The DoD did not 'first propose star wars'. Robert A. Heinlein (chairman of) and the citizens council on space, first proposed 'star wars'.

Know this, when Heinlein would enter a room full of Admirals and Generals, all of them would stop whatever they were doing to listen to whatever the old man had to say.
Wulfgar
1 / 5 (1) Jun 16, 2011
using Mach effect propulsion if it exists.
maxcypher
4.8 / 5 (11) Jun 16, 2011
Steve Ellis' statement is foolish in the extreme: Of course, world hunger, climate control, poverty and disease are extremely important problems that need funding; but we always need to keep an eye on the future if we are to evolve out of our difficult existence into an existence with more degrees of freedom (and with even more complicated difficulties, lol).
dirk_bruere
4.3 / 5 (13) Jun 16, 2011
We *could* have had people on Mars 30 years ago.
Technology is not the real problem.
stealthc
1.5 / 5 (21) Jun 16, 2011
master this planet first, then talk about branching out to others.
Skepticus
2.6 / 5 (11) Jun 16, 2011
$500 mil for the next gen star drive? Talk about the US going broke. The Chinese would pay 5 bil. for one. But then again, there are ways to make one "volunteer" a "National security level" invention for peanuts.
TheGhostofOtto1923
4.1 / 5 (15) Jun 16, 2011
master this planet first, then talk about branching out to others.
Leaving this planet is the only way to master humankinds destiny. Meaning protecting its existance. This is pretty obvious.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.5 / 5 (8) Jun 16, 2011
using Mach effect propulsion if it exists.
This is pretty interesting.
http://en.wikiped...d_effect

Theres got to be a loophole like this somewhere. Like Higgs shielding or suppression or something. Heinlein used inertialess drive in Methuselahs Children.
TabulaMentis
2.3 / 5 (11) Jun 16, 2011
From the article:
"The plan is to make interstellar travel possible in about a century."
It is going to happen within fifty years, not in the next 100. A gravity engine will do the job very nicely. Where do I sign-up. You can count me in on this one! I could use a new toilet seat cover.
Mayday
3 / 5 (13) Jun 16, 2011
Unfortunately, the United States is no longer a space-faring nation. At the moment, it is the Chinese who have the best chance of moving humanity to the stars. I applaud all nations' in their visions to move mankind beyond this single, troubled sphere, but I am afraid that fear has shackled our once great nation to a technological future of little more than action-movie-making and addictive game apps.
Telekinetic
2 / 5 (6) Jun 16, 2011
I don't have first-hand knowledge of John Hutchison's anti-gravity experiments, but I wouldn't dismiss them out of hand. If his work is genuine, then he's a good candidate for this prize.
But half of a million dollars? Chump change.
xznofile
3.7 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2011
Great! Imagine a self contained, self supporting society, floating in space, dealing with the same things folks on earth deal with. I volunteer the Bilderberg Group
Cave_Man
1.7 / 5 (7) Jun 17, 2011
Why not start with matter anti-matter engines like in Star Trek. next you need some di-lithium thingamajig and you're halfway to warp speed which i think is pretty fast, can i have my half a million dollars now.....please!
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (9) Jun 17, 2011
master this planet first, then talk about branching out to others.

And the criteria for having mastered this planet are ...? This seems like an ever shifting goalpost to me.
dsl5000
5 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2011
master this planet first, then talk about branching out to others.


If we think like that we would've never left human origin. Or Europe/Asia to discover the Americas. Even to this very day parts of Asia, Europe and Africa are still very low tech(And americas).

Earth is not unlimited in resources. If we want to continue to grow we need to seek new resources and new frontiers..unless you are choosing to stagnate population growth like Japan or China with their 1 child rule.

Besides, I think it'll be awesome to be a Space cowboy with high tech toys (Maybe even a new meaning for crotch rocket :) ).
antialias_physorg
2.8 / 5 (6) Jun 17, 2011
Earth is not unlimited in resources.


For all intents and purposes it is (with the exception of organic type resources like oil).

- We have barely scratched the surface of the planet while looking for stuff to mine (and that only on land). We mostly go no deeper than a kilometer (deepst mine is about 3.5 kilometers). Earth's mantle is 10-70km thick. There should be plenty of stuff left over - it is just a matter of economics.

- (Solar) energy is super-abundant. Failing that we are sitting on a ball with 13000km diameter which is mostly molten rock (except for the top 10-70km). The amount of usable energy contained therein is gigantic.
Vendicar_Decarian
1 / 5 (6) Jun 17, 2011
"Earth is not unlimited in resources." - dsl5000

"Humanity will never run out of resources from the Earth. In fact as time passes such resources are not becoming more scarce, but ever more abundant. Effectively then the Earth's resources are infinite." - Conservative Economist Julian Simon
DavidMcC
5 / 5 (3) Jun 17, 2011
We *could* have had people on Mars 30 years ago.
Technology is not the real problem.

True, Dirk, but in the case of other stars, it most definitely is!
The realistic bits of modern sci-fi yarns about travel to the stars is the first generation of ships getting "lost in space" (ie, ending in total failure). The unrealistic bits are that a later generation succeeds.
DavidMcC
4.2 / 5 (5) Jun 17, 2011
"Humanity will never run out of resources from the Earth. In fact as time passes such resources are not becoming more scarce, but ever more abundant. Effectively then the Earth's resources are infinite." - Conservative Economist Julian Simon

Just one snag - it's BS.
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.6 / 5 (5) Jun 17, 2011
Unfortunately, the United States is no longer a space-faring nation. At the moment
-You should have inserted a period at this point. At the moment we are faring robotically.
master this planet first, then talk about branching out to others.

And the criteria for having mastered this planet are ...? This seems like an ever shifting goalpost to me.
1) Protect it from impactors.
2) Protect it from rogue nation spacefarers (Iran)
3) 'All our eggs in one basket'- we need to spread ourselves around in case we are extincted on earth by unavoidable events: engineered pandemics is one example.
4) Exploit energy and resources.
5) Learn about all the critical things we can only learn about if we're up there learning about them.
6) This may be our one window of opportunity- if not now then maybe never.
7) The purpose of life is to diversify and inhabit new niches. We've been elected to carry on the tradition.

-I'm sure there are others.
sstritt
2 / 5 (4) Jun 17, 2011
First things first. We need to focus on the space elevator, for whatever nation achieves that first will own space. The rational progression is to immediately use it to construct a second one. After enough lift capacity is achieved, all other launch modes will be economically unviable, leaving every other nation earthbound.
Canman
4 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2011
Why Darpa? Why not an endowment for the sciences Grant or NASA?
NameIsNotNick
1 / 5 (1) Jun 17, 2011
Earth is not unlimited in resources.


For all intents and purposes it is (with the exception of organic type resources like oil).


Not with the technology we presently have...
stanfrax
1 / 5 (7) Jun 17, 2011
kept secret since the twenty's - anti gravity and free energy - a strip of magnets 3 m2 poz neg - stand the same next to it - width the size of a ladder - put in a magnet and taper the hedges at 45 degrees - give a small nudge - it shoots up - lay 2 on the ground - make an inner and outer circle - fill the gap with magnets at 45 degrees - brace it down - place it in a bulk head - provide gears - free energy - Mr Nickolaus Tesla
stanfrax
1 / 5 (5) Jun 17, 2011
area 51 does not exist or does it who cares - NASA must know of this technology
TheGhostofOtto1923
2.7 / 5 (7) Jun 17, 2011
First things first. We need to focus on the space elevator, for whatever nation achieves that first will own space. The rational progression is to immediately use it to construct a second one. After enough lift capacity is achieved, all other launch modes will be economically unviable, leaving every other nation earthbound.
No, unfortunately the one who is able to shoot it down will own space.
Why Darpa? Why not an endowment for the sciences Grant or NASA?
Because securement of the 'high ground' of space is foremost a concern of national security. Iran is launching monkeys into space. Very soon it will be jihadists. This is why the shuttle program was a military one.

It is of the utmost importance that any gamechanging technologies be discovered or commandeered and developed by the west FIRST; or we will have religious fanatics raining meteors down on us.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3.4 / 5 (8) Jun 17, 2011
kept secret since the twenty's - anti gravity and free energy - a strip of magnets 3 m2 poz neg - stand the same next to it - width the size of a ladder - put in a magnet and taper the hedges at 45 degrees - give a small nudge - it shoots up - lay 2 on the ground - make an inner and outer circle - fill the gap with magnets at 45 degrees - brace it down - place it in a bulk head - provide gears - free energy - Mr Nickolaus Tesla
You have a link or are you just farting in your bathwater?
stanfrax
1 / 5 (5) Jun 17, 2011
yes
Scientist_Steve
5 / 5 (2) Jun 17, 2011
We had the technology 40 years ago to provide interstellar travel. Had funding not been pulled on project Orion because of that damn nuclear arms treaty and for fear of scattering radioactive waste into the atmosphere, we would be already BE to the nearest star. I know it wasn't the instant space travel people dream of, but atleast it would've been progress.
antialias_physorg
3 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2011
Earth is not unlimited in resources.

Not with the technology we presently have...


Well, with the technology we currently have we aren't able to mine asteroids/other planets. I think we'll develop tech to dig a bit deeper (or do oceanfloor mining) before we are able to do large scale extraterrestrial mining.
rbrtwjohnson
1 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2011
I think the dream of a Star Trek interstellar travel can become a reality with development of relativistic space drives.
www.youtube.com/w...wyr5Udzw
knowledge_treehouse
not rated yet Jun 18, 2011
dante_danthony
2 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2011
I don't have first-hand knowledge of John Hutchison's anti-gravity experiments, but I wouldn't dismiss them out of hand. If his work is genuine, then he's a good candidate for this prize.
But half of a million dollars? Chump change.
I met John Hutchinson one time by accident when travelling. He was an amiable and interesting guy. I can't assess his work-but I liked him. I hope he makes the breakthrough. It would lower the cost of transportation of goods to a pittance by virtue of weight reduction, not to mention the payload cost of getting material off Earth.
unknownorgin
2.3 / 5 (6) Jun 19, 2011
I know there are people who visit this site that invent things and think about better ways to do things if you know what I mean so do not give away that new concept to DARPA for a lousy $500,000 when even a practical system for low earth orbit would be worth billions and if it could go to mars the planet could become like a whole new country controled by those who colonize it first. Who would give all that up for just $500,000?
bluehigh
1.3 / 5 (6) Jun 19, 2011
how quickly can we get to orbit beta centuri? Is twenty percent light speed and a 50 year return journey practical? Given the Voyager spacecraft long term success then why not launch now unmanned with a good nuclear engine?
How fast can we go?
bluehigh
2 / 5 (7) Jun 19, 2011
Voyager more than a 33 year project. Current craft velocity = about 70,000 years before Proxima/Beta Centuri even if it was going in the right direction. For sure its GPS would have clapped out ages ago. So we need to move a 1000 times faster. Can do?
dsl5000
3 / 5 (2) Jun 19, 2011
"Earth is not unlimited in resources." - dsl5000

"Humanity will never run out of resources from the Earth. In fact as time passes such resources are not becoming more scarce, but ever more abundant. Effectively then the Earth's resources are infinite." - Conservative Economist Julian Simon


I stand by my words, and am shocked by your quote (@ Vendicar_Decarian). Even basic economics of supply vs. demand shows that there is scarcity. If there weren't, everything would be cheap.

Besides, exploring is fun :) The idea of Zero-gravity, deep space, looking back at earth like those in ISS...awesome!
_nigmatic10
2.3 / 5 (3) Jun 19, 2011
Earth is a finite renewable resource. I.e as long as demand remains a constant, the supply would remain renewable and unlimited. As the demand increases, the system of renewable limits are reached.
Inflaton
2.3 / 5 (4) Jun 19, 2011
I would give interstellar travel a good few centuries before it becomes technologically feasible. Then again by that time it won't be humans who will be the ones considering an interstellar journey anyway.
knowledge_treehouse
4 / 5 (1) Jun 19, 2011
I know there are people who visit this site that invent things and think about better ways to do things if you know what I mean so do not give away that new concept to DARPA for a lousy $500,000 when even a practical system for low earth orbit would be worth billions and if it could go to mars the planet could become like a whole new country controled by those who colonize it first. Who would give all that up for just $500,000?

Some one who wants it ASAP and doesn't have the resources to make it happen.
Humpty
1.8 / 5 (5) Jun 20, 2011
What we DO need - I declare, is to forget entirely about near or faster than light travel.

We need to jump through space - between stars, in hours or minutes.

The galaxy is a HUGE place
antialias_physorg
2 / 5 (1) Jun 20, 2011
I'd go another direction: Send a mind state abstract (in essence something akin to a human mind-primed AI). Yes, I know we don't know how to build one. But we also don't know how to build
- sustainable biospheres large enough for sustainable populations of humans
- radiation shielding that will keep human populations alive for decades/centuries in space
- shielding that will protect a craft at significant speeds from the cumulative effects of microimpacts (or even one 'small object' impact)
- propulsion that can get such huge masses to speeds anywhere close to what we need to get anywhere else in a reasonable amount of time.

I'm guessing AIs will come to pass before all of the above will be developed.

A mind state abstract could be housed in a small, compact, robust, redundant processing unit and switched off for the voyage - so we could go anywhere with even low veocity engines (e.g. currently available ion engines).

The body doesn't need to go. The mind is enough.
ubavontuba
1 / 5 (3) Jun 20, 2011
Here's a website from a group of scientists and engineers who have been working together in a nonprofit corporation on interstellar spaceflight for years:

http://www.tauzero.aero/

It was primarily founded by Marc G. Millis (of NASA's defunct Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project)

And here's an associated blog which rgularly comments on their work and other space related issues:

http://www.centau...ams.org/