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NASA's 100-Year Starship Project Sets Sights on Interstellar Travel

The next 50 years of spaceflight will carry many challenges and surprises for explorers hoping to extend their reach into the cosmos. But it will also likely hold untapped riches for space science and spinoff technology that could, one day, catapult human

The next 50 years of spaceflight will carry many challenges and surprises for explorers hoping to extend their reach into the cosmos. But it will also likely hold untapped riches for space science and spinoff technology that could, one day, catapult human and robotic explores beyond our own solar system and outward to other stars.

CREDIT: NASA/Glenn Research Center

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Shooting for the stars will first require a lot of down-to-Earth elbow grease, as NASA's new 100-Year Starship project illustrates. The effort, to journey between stars in the 2100s, began with a workshop and now is in the study phase.

NASA's Ames Research Center and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) are collaborating on the $1 million 100-Year Starship Study, an effort to take the first step in the next era of space exploration.

The study will scrutinize the business model needed to develop and mature technologies needed to enable long-haul human space treks a century from now. Kick-started by a strategic planning workshop in January, the project has brought together more than two dozen farsighted futurists, NASA specialists, science fiction writers, foundation aficionados and educators.

But for the moment, put aside all those Vulcan mind melds and get a grip. Launching a truly interstellar human voyage is a goal that will require sustained investments of intellectual and financial capital from a variety of sources.

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Dave Neyland, director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office, said that the 100-Year Starship name was chosen because it would require a long-range sustainable effort to get our species to other stars.

"Looking at history, most significant exploration, like crossing oceans or continents for the first time, was sponsored by patrons or groups outside of government," Neyland said in a DARPA statement. [Video: Warp Drive and Wormholes]

Neyland said that the focus of the endeavor is to identify a mechanism that gets such a long-range project "out of the government, and make sure it is an energized and self-sustaining enterprise."

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Another workshop attendee was Harry Kloor, an author, scientist and science technology consultant whose has written for "Star Trek: Voyager." Kloor said there should be no rush for the project, but that its aim should be true.

"There are a lot of steps between now and then," Kloor told SPACE.com. "Nobody came forward with the idea that we won’t be trying to reach for the stars. If you don’t aim for it, how are you ever going to hit the target?"

Kloor’s crystal ball calls for unforeseen breakthroughs … be they in medicine, communications, lifespan extension, radiation survival, data transport, even energy generation.

"Also, I’m banking on within five years, 10 years at the most, that we will find nearby, say within 20 light-years, an Earth-like planet."

Given such an eye-opening discovery, Kloor said that public consciousness will change. By finding such a nearby habitable world, humanity could then start to envisage the feasibility of a stellar trek.

"It will be the same as when people were imagining what’s on the other side of our world," Kloor said.

Kloor considers interstellar travel a necessity.

"If we don’t eventually spread out – I’m not saying tomorrow or even 100 years – but if we don’t get off planet it is inevitable that we would go extinct, just like the dinosaurs," Kloor said. "Either a natural or unnatural event will occur that will wipe us out."

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The Urantia Book does not mention the possibility of interstellar travel, or whether mankind is destined to achieve it (except as part of travel to our various planetary destinations throughout the ascension program).

While I believe that this effort to look so far ahead to the possibilities of interstellar travel is interesting - and likely doable, I suspect that we probably do not have to worry about natural catastrophes or extinction of the human race. The Urantia Book is quite clear:

51:2.3 " ... If some physical catastrophe should doom the planetary residence of an evolving race, the Melchizedeks and the Life Carriers would install the technique of dematerialization for all survivors, and by seraphic transport these beings would be carried away to the new world prepared for their continuing existence. The evolution of a human race, once initiated on a world of space, must proceed quite independently of the physical survival of that planet..."

Frankly, I think I might prefer to be transported by seraphic beings than by a man-made spaceship...how about you?

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