I recently read an article about a joint NASA/DARPA project called the "Hundred-Year Starship". Basically, it’s a year-long study to determine the feasibility of constructing a generation ship for the purpose of colonizing a suitable planet outside our solar system. According to Paul Eremenko, project coordinator at DARPA:
"The 100 Year Starship study is about more than building a spacecraft or any one specific technology. We endeavor to excite several generations to commit to the research and development of breakthrough technologies and cross-cutting innovations across a myriad of disciplines to advance the goal of long-distance space travel, but also to benefit mankind."
Could NASA pull off anything as awesome as all that? Even with DARPA’s help? Well, let’s just say I’m with Capt. Xerox on this one. He sums it up nicely for me:
"I wouldn’t go betting any money on this program actually happening. NASA hasn’t been back to the moon in a generation, never mind heading beyond the solar system…"
Bottom line? Not bloody likely. So says my rational mind anyway.
My geeky SF brain, however, refuses to let go of the notion. I’ve been reading about generation ships and extra-solar colonization forever. The technological wonder of a massive starship with a complete enclosed ecosystem hurtling through space for a hundred years, taking its precious cargo of humanity across the void in search of another Eden? Entire generations of inhabitants living aboard a ship that is the only home they’ve ever known? Never to see the Earth again? That’s the stuff of dreams.
And of course astronomers have been finding new planets at an astonishing pace. How long before they find one worth visiting? Will we be ready to go when they do? How far out would we have to start planning something like that to ever make it a reality? I’d say pretty damn far. So far, in fact, that it sounds like science fiction. Kind of like now. I can’t tell you how excited I am just knowing that there are real scientists out there actually considering this idea; especially at a time when it seems that we’re moving further and further away from the promise of manned space flight.
I say keep on dreaming big, NASA! It has to start somewhere, sometime. And even though it likely won’t happen in our lifetimes there are plenty of us out here who will go right along dreaming with you.
Would you like to know more?
- NASA Ames’ Worden reveals DARPA-funded ‘Hundred Year Starship’ program
- 100 Year Starship: Nasa’s plan to colonise galaxy
- ‘Hundred-Year Starship’ Would Send Space Explorers on One-Way Mission to Mars
- NASA and DARPA Plan ‘Hundred-Year Starship’ To Bring Humans to Other Worlds and Leave Them There Forever
Generation Ship Novels
Until there’s a real ship to take us "where no man has gone before" we’ll have to make do with some great science fictional accounts of what it might be like:
What other great generation ship novels can you think of?