DARPA, NASA seek ideas for starship travel

U.S. Defense Department and space agency hope humans will be traveling to the stars in 100 years

NASA and DARPA want the U.S. to be sending humans on interstellar space missions by 2111, and officials are seeking your help in accomplishing that goal.

The two agencies today jointly put out a call today for ideas and abstracts for possible presentation at the 100 Year Starship Study Symposium, which is set to be held in Orlando Sept. 30 through Oct. 2.

The project pairs up the U.S. Department of Defense's research arm -- the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) -- with NASA's Ames Research Center. With DARPA footing the bill, the two agencies are working to come up with a plan for creating technology that can help humans travel to the stars within 100 years.

"One hundred years is a pretty good period of time to inspire research to go out and tackle problems that will have you asking questions you didn't even know to ask at the beginning," said David Neyland, director of the Tactical Technology Office for DARPA, today. "The investment must have a long-term goal and ancillary benefits to the government and NASA."

The overall effort kicked off last year and continued in January with a DARPA-hosted workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area that featured an eclectic mix of sci-fi authors, physicists, educators and biologists discussing why humans should travel to the stars. The group also talked about the physics of interstellar travel and who should go on such long and perilous trips.

"We want to capture the imagination of folks who might not be thinking of coming into research and development," said Neyland.

During a press conference held today to announce the plan to seek help in the initiative, Neyland was adamant in contending that technology developed as a result of this project would likely reap great benefits for the U.S. military as well as the population as a whole.

"We want to feed research and development" to create technology to use in building starships that would also "have ancillary payoffs," Neyland said. "Clearly, a starship would have to be energy-neutral. It's not going to be able to stop off at a gas station on the way. That kind of research could benefit us now."

He also cited the need for technologies that could be used to produce food, water and oxygen in outer space.

The papers can focus on several subjects, such as time and space manipulation, near-speed-of-light navigation, interstellar communication, the religious implications of finding life on other planets, creating medical facilities in space and what items should be taken on starships.

Sharon Gaudin covers the Internet and Web 2.0, emerging technologies, and desktop and laptop chips for Computerworld. Follow Sharon on Twitter at @sgaudin, or subscribe to Sharon's RSS feed . Her email address is sgaudin@computerworld.com.

Copyright © 2011 IDG Communications, Inc.

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