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Thursday, February 17, 2011

DARPA keeping Project Orion in the air

Valentine's Day is few days past, but I'd like to talk for a moment about "love". Love is a strong word. It's an awfully strong word to apply to a governmental agency, especially one mostly devoted to finding new and creative ways to make those people over there be dead. Especially on the same week that I did my taxes. But right now, I think I love DARPA.

Because while NASA's new budget has left most of its deep-space exploration projects in ashes, DARPA is quietly continuing its work on the 100-Year Starship.
(Intended that to be a simple hotlink, but Blogspot is glitchy this morning.)

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency is the branch of the US Department of Defense who typically make all of the cool James Bond stuff for all four branches of the US military. They're a think tank whose only charter is radical innovation, and many of their innovations have had application far broader than the military (if you can read this post, thank DARPA). DARPA (ARPA at the time) was formed as a response to the Soviet launch of Sputnik, in hopes that the US would never again be out-technologied by anyone. Yes, I just made up that word.

So, DARPA just issued a press release for their first workshop of several throughout 2011 focusing on Project Orion, or whatever they happen to be calling it now. This is notable from the press release:

“We picked the 100-Year Starship name because it would require a long-range sustainable effort to get our species to other stars,” said (Dave Neyland, Director of DARPA’s Tactical Technology Office). “Looking at history, most significant exploration, like crossing oceans or continents for the first time, was sponsored by patrons or groups outside of government. We’re here because we’d like to start with a mechanism that gets this long-range project out of the government, and make sure it is an energized and self-sustaining enterprise.”

Read: This project is going to take a lot of time and a lot of money to accomplish, let's get it out from under the two-year electoral cycle and the one-year federal budget cycle or it's never going to be completed.


The press release continues:

Workshop members addressed a wide range of issues, such as why humans should visit the stars, the risks involved, the economic and socio-political-religious obstacles, and the type of governance structure needed. Other topics, such as the importance of having short-term achievable goals, identifying a destination for a 100-Year Starship, bringing together a core group of experts/enthusiasts, interest groups and private funding, and the continued importance of science and technical education for the youth of the world were also discussed at length.

I have some thoughts percolating on this, will be posting more later when they're better formulated. But I think this is a very good sign that we're moving ahead with Orion, cautiously. And that, friends, is a huge thing.

Here's the press release:

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