My 100 Year Starship Experience
by Adam Crowl
Two years ago when we began forming the “Project Icarus” team, I think we all imagined we might be contributing to future efforts to develop interstellar probes, just as “Project Daedalus” did almost 40 years ago. Some might have hoped to see the beginnings of research programs dedicated to building the starships, but for myself I did not expect to see the beginning so soon. And that’s what I believe the 100 Year Starship Symposium represents. We are at the dawn of the Interstellar Age, just as the Space Age dawned back in 1957. Attending this amazing event has convinced me this is so. When the 100 Year Starship Symposium was announced I wanted to go, but had no idea if I could afford the costs, but generosity of friends and family made it possible. I haven’t flown in 25 years, but my last Trans-pacific flight was to the USA so I had some idea of the journey ahead. I left Brisbane, Australia at 630 AM on Thursday and arrived in Orlando, Florida just after 7 PM on the same calendar day – timezones working to my advantage. My first contact with Team Icarus was Andreas Hein, who is an amazing Icarus Designer from Munich. Sharing a taxi, we arrived at the Orlando Hilton, strangers in a strange land. Soon after unloading bags and a shower (over 24 hours of flying…) I met the other members of the Icarus Interstellar Board in the flesh. We had talked on Skype so I had some idea of voices and faces, but to finally meet everyone was a special moment. A long session at the Sports Bar followed, with an introduction to Jerry Winchester, one of our Consultants and Andreas Tziolas’s boss. I managed to hold on to 2 AM, but had to collapse and recover from jet-lag. The Symposium proper began the next day in the early afternoon, giving us time to admire Bill Cress’ amazing handiwork in the Icarus Interstellar table outside the main auditoriums. Hailey Bright, our official spokesperson, charmed me into being the first interviewee for the promotional material that Bill is developing. That prepared me for facing the auditorium for my own talk the next day. The multi-track structure of the Symposium was kind of frustrating, with multiple talks I wanted to attend being on at the same time. What I did catch was fascinating, with some amazing work on future life-support options in the Biomedical Track, and equally fascinating work on future propulsion concepts. The amazing part was outside the official talks, fulfilling multiple SF fandom dreams by meeting a number of my favourite authors, most notably Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford and Gerald Nordley – as Greg puts it in his own blog the Symposium was the first Hard-SF convention. The buzz amongst attendees during the social events – such as the stand-up story-telling in “Callahan’s Cross-Time Saloon” – was refreshingly positive in this age of economic anxiety. While speculative ideas with some kind of physics behind them did feature in some of the talks, the Symposium stuck with what seemed doable within the next century, as well as trying to display the multi-dimensional nature of what really launching a manned starship would require. Two talks held the key to the future, in my opinion. James Benford, Ph.D, discussed the economics of developing beamed-energy propulsion to propel high-speed sail-probes out of the solar system. His discussion demonstrated that the infrastructure required to launch sail-probes can also be used to develop the solar system for the benefit of all humanity. An incremental pathway to the stars, performing useful , profitable tasks at each step, can be carried out using technology we have now. The architecture might not be as Dr.Benford sketched out, but there is a road to the stars, which Icarus Interstellar is a part of. The other talk was given by Ariel Waldman, founder of Space Hack, an organization devoted to getting ordinary, but space-minded, people involved in space exploration in whatever way possible. That can range from attending workshops on how to make your own Cube-sat, to joining a planetary Rover team, to scanning distant galaxies and categorizing them (a job computers still struggle to do.) If Icarus Interstellar, and the 100 Year Starship Organization, can mobilize everyone who longs for the stars, then the task will be achieved, and everyone will have had a hand in it. All-in-all I feel privileged to have attended such an amazing, even historical event. Before long there will be a 100 Year Starship Organization, and a role for everyone to play in its success. Come with us, to the stars.