Recently NASA and DARPA initiated a year-long study called the “100 Year Starship,” designed to ascertain what would be needed to develop long duration space flight and even permanent space settlements on other worlds.
The “100 Year Starship” is an initiative of Pete Worden, the center director of NASA Ames and a man known to think outside the box where it comes to concepts about space flight. NASA will kick in $100,000 for the study, while DARPA is contributing a million dollars.
Ideas being explored by the “100 Year Starship” study include not only the scientific areas that have to be examined, but also unique ways of financing long range expeditions and permanent space settlements, involving the private sector.
According to Information Week Government:
“The basic goal of the 100-Year-Starship program is to develop a plan to engage with and facilitate private co-investment in long-distance manned spaceflight to support the time necessary to develop a viable program, according to the agencies.
“The agencies anticipate cross-discipline work encompassing physics, mathematics, biology, economics, and psychological, social, political and cultural sciences, as well as the usual engineering and technology efforts needed for spaceflight.
“DARPA also expects that technology and strategies developed by the study to support DoD mission areas, such as propulsion, energy storage, biology/life support, computing, structures and navigation, it said.
“Beyond the DoD and NASA, the agencies hope the investments they’re making in developing a plan also will inspire private entrepreneurs, the engineering and scientific community, and students interested in related disciplines to contribute to the study’s ultimate goal.”
One idea being kicked around as part of the “100 Year Starship” study is a permanent settlement on Mars, in which a crew of astronauts would voyage to the Red Planet, set up a colony there, and live there for the rest of their lives. If the historical analogy of most space expeditions has been Columbus or Lewis and Clark, the analogy for this for the rest o effort would be Jamestown or Plymouth.
More importantly the business model being discussed for such an undertaking takes more the form of a public/private partnership rather than a standard government program. Alan Boyle at MSNBC reveals how Pete Worden has discussed the Mars settlement concept with Google co-founder Larry Page,
“Worden said he has discussed the potential price tag for one-way trips to Mars with Google co-founder Larry Page, telling him such a mission could be done for $10 billion. ‘His response was, ‘Can you get it down to $1 [billion] or $2 billion?’ So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price,” Angelica quoted Worden as saying.”
Google is already involved in a competition called the Google Lunar X Prize that will award a cash prize to the first private organization to land an instrument package on the lunar surface. NASA has recently kicked in some funding to purchase data from the winner of the competition.
More importantly the “100 Year Starship” study is an attempt to get people to think of space efforts as being a multigenerational process, something that civilizations do as a matter of course just as a function of being a civilization. Hitherto the United States in particular has suffered a kind of ADD where space is concerned. The Apollo program was truncated, with the last three missions cancelled, due to political whim. President Bush’s Constellation program to return astronauts to the Moon and eventually send them to Mars and beyond was cancelled by President Obama after only six years with no missions flown. President Obama’s ill defined program to send astronauts to an asteroid will, no doubt, be changed in the fullness of time.
Thus either the “100 Year Starship” study will change the way we think about space or, like too many studies before it, will wind up gathering dust. It will depend on how people deal with it.
Sources: NASA, DARPA Plan ‘100-Year Starship’, Elizabeth Montalbano, Information Week Government, October 29th, 2010
Billionaires wanted for starship plan, Alan Boyle, Cosmic Log, MSNBC, October 27th, 2010