100 Year Starship
The 100 Year Starship (100YSS) is a joint U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) grant project to a private entity. The goal of the study is not to have the government fund the actual building of spacecraft, but rather to create a business plan that can last 100 years in order to help foster the research needed for interstellar travel.
The 100 Year Starship effort was announced by NASA Ames Research Center director Pete Worden in a talk at San Francisco's Long Conversation conference in October 2010. In a DARPA press release officially announcing the effort, program manager Paul Eremenko, who served as the study coordinator, explained that the endeavor was meant to excite several generations to commit to the research and development of breakthrough technologies to advance the eventual goal of interstellar space travel.
The 100 Year Starship study is the name of a one year project to assess the attributes of and lay the groundwork for an organization that can carry forward the 100 Year Starship vision. American physician and former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison made the winning bid as leader of her own foundation, the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence. The Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence was awarded a $500,000 grant for further work. The new organization maintained the organizational name 100 Year Starship.
100 Year Starship Symposia
Before the solicitation for the foundation, the 100 Year Starship project was preceded by a conference held in Orlando, Florida, from September 30 to October 2, 2011, co-sponsored by DARPA and NASA, organized by DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office director, David Neyland. The conference included presentations on the technology, biology, physics, philosophy, sociology, and economics of interstellar flight. Selected papers from the conference were published in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society.
After the Jemison Foundation was named as winner of the solicitation, a second symposium was held in 2012 in Houston. Papers on a number of subjects related to interstellar flight and organization of the foundation were presented. 2013 and 2014 Symposia were held in Houston and a fifth announced for September 2015.
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The daily life of citizens on Earth has been significantly impacted by the innovations, inventions, and advances made through space exploration. Within ten years of achieving Earth orbit, humans were able to land on the Moon. From then on, humans on Earth have observed the universe through satellite data and images, Mars rovers, and deep space probes and space telescopes. Complex interstellar travel has been simplified through the accomplishments of the Skylab, International Space Station, Space Shuttle, Mir, and Soyuz. Even still, the challenge of traveling to a different star is extremely difficult. The Solar System is huge compared to Earth, and Pluto for example is much closer than the distances of interstellar space or between stars. Therefore, we know much more about our Solar System than what is beyond it because of the challenge of distance. To simplify measuring, these enormous distances have their own special units called astronomical units, or AU. One AU is defined as exactly 149597870700 metres, roughly 93 million miles. Even though exoplanets and new stars are discovered nearly every day, they are vastly beyond the reach of exploration. The greatest distance a manmade object launched from Earth has travelled is around 100 AU from Earth. This has been achieved by the Voyager 1 that has travelled at 35,700 miles per hour for above 30 years now.
If the time needed for a mission to reach another star takes longer than a human lifespan, it may require many generations to finish the journey. The many challenges of interstellar travel may include the vessel to remain on course, react to unpredicted events, communicate with people on Earth and on the way, and expand technology capabilities and knowledge. As well as, the accommodation of spacefarers by keeping them happy, engaged, healthy, and working. There are also challenges to the human body since some of the cardiovascular system and human heart’s ability to effectively pump blood is lost and de-conditioned when returned from space to an environment with gravity. Also, muscles must maintain strength with constant challenges but almost 13% of back muscle mass as well as bone matrix and calcium are lost by astronauts in only eight days without gravity, making them more vulnerable to fractures.
The most important challenge is possibly what is unknown. It is impossible to see all the dust and other matter out there that does not emit light, making the knowledge of it all more desirable. Energy is needed to move or propel a vehicle and to power the systems of the spacecraft such as lights, navigation, agriculture, computers, environmental controls, etc. Energy can be generated in multiple ways, but the methods used on Earth such as burning fossil fuels produce little energy, and there is not enough material on Earth for the collecting and storing of the massive amount of energy required to power interstellar travel. Thus, another huge challenge, is to develop the technology required to produce more efficient and effective sources of energy production and storage. Solar energy is an efficient means of generating a good amount of energy when the Sun is close, but not nearly as efficient when far away. So using solar energy is not efficient when travelling between stars.
However a solution for the energy challenge is the use of nuclear sources for rapid interstellar and interplanetary travel. Nuclear sources are far superior to chemical sources in terms of energy generation. First of all, nuclear fission energy generates electricity and heat with the splitting of atoms and is already in use on Earth. Fission is used for the powering of spacecraft instruments, but it must be developed further in order for it to be safe for use in larger systems for launch and people on board. Fusion is another form of nuclear energy that uses the same process that powers the Sun and can generate more energy than fission. This energy can only be controlled and generated in large quantities when using weapons such as thermonuclear bombs at present. Finally, antimatter is the source of the most powerful form of energy generation in the modern day and energy in immense quantities is released with the meeting of matter and antimatter. Very little amounts of antimatter have been generated for short periods of time currently. Therefore, the speed at which we can travel determines the time needed to travel to other stars.
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