Recently, DARPA, the U.S. military’s research agency, announced a contest awarding $500,000 to the group who provides the best proposal for the 100-Year Starship Study. The goal of the study is to map out what an interstellar mission will look like and what technologies and products we need to develop so a manned spacecraft could be on its way to another star in 100 years.
It’s a lofty goal inviting top researchers to bring their A-game. But what’s also interesting is how speculative fiction writers are invited to join and how speculative fiction inspired the whole project. In an interview with the LA Times, David Neyland, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office shared his speculative fiction inspiration:
When I came to DARPA about three years ago, I was looking for ways to inspire a new generation of scientists and engineers to become involved with research and development, like I was inspired when I was a kid. And in the course of thinking this through, I fell back on my science fiction reading heritage — to the days of reading books by people like Robert Heinlein and the story he wrote, “Time for the Stars.” In that book, he characterized an organization called the Long Range Foundation, a group of people that invested in things that nobody else would invest in. One of the things they invested in was rockets and spaceships and interstellar travel.
Neyland goes on to share that the idea behind a 100-year timeline comes from how long it took from Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon to be published to when man actually landed on the moon. Thoughtful, inspiring fiction, it seems, can be quite the catalyst for scientific planning and subsequent advancement.
I’m glad that policy makers are beginning to understand the power imaginative stories can have. Also, in a world that seems to be fixated on the NOW, I’m glad there are a few who are thinking beyond their lifetimes. What a great legacy to leave behind!
What do you think we need to do in order to launch an interstellar mission in 100 years?