The light-years between the stars is vast -- a seemingly insurmountable quarantine that cuts our solar system off from the rest of the galaxy. But to a growing number of interstellar enthusiasts -- and a former U.S. president -- interstellar distances may not be as insurmountable as they seem.
On Sept. 13, an international group of big thinkers will descend on Houston, Texas, to discuss one very big idea: making interstellar travel possible within the next 100 years.
The 100 Year Starship Project (100YSS) was seeded by a Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) initiative, and earlier this year it was announced that ex-NASA astronaut Mae Jemison and the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence would head the project. Icarus Interstellar Inc. (a non-profit organization co-founded by Richard Obousy in the aim of developing technologies for interstellar travel), SETI Institute and Foundation for Enterprise Development were also tapped to join the multi-partner project to develop the technical, cultural, legal and financial frameworks for a manned mission to another star.
During an interview with Discovery News in May, Jemison expressed her desire to make the 100YSS project a global, "inclusive" endeavor. "'Inclusive' brings that sociocultural perspective; it brings a trans-disciplinary perspective. It says it makes a difference who's on board, aspect-wise, gender-wise, geography-wise, national origin ... everyone needs to be involved and we need to pay attention to that," she said.
So, next week will see the 100YSS 2012 Public Symposium kick off in Houston, marking the beginning of a century of work striving to push mankind out of the solar system and on a journey to becoming an interstellar civilization.
Former President Bill Clinton has even stepped in to serve as the symposium's Honorary Chair. In a statement, Clinton said: "This important effort helps advance the knowledge and technologies required to explore space, all while generating the necessary tools that enhance our quality of life on earth."
In addition to Jemison, there will be several well known guest speakers including actress Nichelle Nichols(who notably played Star Trek's Lt. Uhura), actor LeVar Burton (Star Trek: TNG's Geordi La Forge), SETI Institute Co-Founder Jill Tarter, anthropologist Johnnetta B. Cole, space journalist Miles O'Brien and many, many more.
Discovery News will also play a key role in the 2012 symposium. I'll be chairing one of the track sessions called "Becoming An Interstellar Civilization." This track is rich with speakers who will discuss the cultural, legal, economic, religious, ethical, philosophical and social aspects of sending a community of people into deep space. Other tracks will look into the engineering, technological, practical and biological aspects of such an endeavor.
In short, the symposium will examine just about every conceivable facet of human life against a backdrop of the audacious plan to travel to, and potentially colonize, another star system.