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Worlds Without End Blog

NASA Dreams of a Hundred-Year Starship Posted at 10:47 AM by Dave Post

Dave Post

The StarlostI 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?

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:

Learning the World Ship of Fools Non-Stop Brute Orbits Cities in Flight Nightside the Long Sun Eon Heart of the Comet Ring Rendezvous with Rama

What other great generation ship novels can you think of?

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5 Comments

Jagoda   |   30 Oct 2010 @ 02:22

Clarke’s Rama, sort of :)

Jagoda   |   30 Oct 2010 @ 04:25

S. Baxter "Ring"G. Bear "Eon"Benford & Brin "Heart of the Comet"L. Niven’s Ringworld series, kind ofG. Wolfe "Book of the Long Sun"Pohl & Williamson "Wall Around A Star"

Dave Post   |   30 Oct 2010 @ 09:05

@Jagoda: Rama did come to mind but since that’s an alien generation ship, I left it off the list. I’ve got the first Long Sun book but didn’t think of those others. Eon sounds really interesting and it’s a SF Masterwork so it’s on my reading list now. Thanks!

Jonathan   |   30 Oct 2010 @ 11:01

It’s appropriate that this project would arise at a time when we are discovering new planets and measuring their attributes at a furious rate. A generation ship would be useless without this prior knowledge, since otherwise the ship’s inhabitants would be sent on a journey that might end very badly. I expect that this kind of speculation will become all the more fierce if we finally discover a planet that could reasonably support human life; so far we’ve only had half-guesses about the planets we’ve found. I think it will all come down to convincing the would-be colonists that this would be a worthwhile expedition not only for themselves, but for their children and all their descendants. The European expatriates who colonized America expected to see the new country themselves and to personally reap its benefits, but how can you convince colonists to cast off into the void with only a promise that their children’s children might—might—find something great at the end of it? How well would even the second generation hold onto the dream? What if, as they approach their destination, the readings on the planet become more clearly antagonistic to any attempts at colonization? This is a lot to ask of anyone, and the more I think about it the more strongly I suspect that this kind of endeavor might never happen. People will gamble with their lives if the probabilities are good, but to gamble their own lives and the lives of their families when the odds are suspicious? Unlikely.So let’s get started on that warp drive.

David   |   15 Nov 2010 @ 09:38

The way that they are trying to get private funding reminds me of the short story Father of the Stars by Fredrick Pohl.And I agree with Jonathan. I personally would jump at the chance to join the inhabitants of the generation ship. However I doubt my wife or children would willingly go. This would undoubtedly make me not a viable member of the population (not to mention I am 40 now).

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