Last week Icarus Interstellar announced that Les Johnson is stepping into a new position at Icarus as Chief Solar Sail Consultant. This new role presents opportunities for more communication and collaboration between Icarus, NASA, and the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop, which Les is the Chair of.
Les brings with him a wealth of experience from his work as Deputy Manager in the Advanced Concepts Office at NASA wherein he leads a team of thirty engineers in the development of concepts for subsystems, spacecraft systems, payloads, missions and overall transportation system architectures. He is widely known as an expert in advanced space propulsion with focused expertise in solar sails and electrodynamic tethers. Les is also an author, and has been featured as a speaker and technical consultant for many different scientific and media events.
The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop is described as an opportunity for relaxed sharing of ideas in directions that will stimulate and encourage interstellar exploration including propulsion, communications, and research. Attendees are encouraged to not only present intellectual concepts but to develop these concepts to suggest projects, collaboration, active research and mission planning. Icarus Interstellar has presented at the conference for three years and Les was invited to speak about solar sail research at the Starship Congress in 2013.
Groups like Icarus and events like the TVIW represent a vanguard philosophy in the space science community. In tech, we have seen a major shift in the last five years to a more collaborative approach to problem solving. Internet development has given rise to a generation of young people who expect information to be available all the time and for free for the most part. For the first time in history we have the ability to host collaborations of large groups of individuals over a distance. We don’t have to be in the same room to work together anymore. The best minds can contribute to a project at any point in the development of it. When asked about Les’ role within Icarus, Richard Obousy comments: “His new position in Icarus… helps connect him with our group as a whole and encourages dialogue between both organizations. Les is a reservoir of knowledge in the field of solar sails, and it’s invaluable that our team has access to that kind of first hand experience, so we’re thrilled to have him join us.”
This approach to tough problems is more solutions oriented than the competitive scientific and academic atmospheres of the past. The work doesn’t just serve to benefit an individual’s career, or an organization, or even a single government anymore. It has the ability to benefit all of humankind, instantly. Progress and results are shared widely giving anyone with interest the opportunity to chime in with a novel solution.
The challenges presented in developing interstellar travel technology are immense and may require a similar ideological shift to happen rapidly in the space sciences. Truly understanding the magnitude of what we are collectively working toward and implementing that understanding through openness and collaboration will be key in reaching the goal of interstellar flight before 2100. Les Johnson understands this. He says in his blog, “The future can be better than today, and it is up to us to make that happen. Now is not the time to diminish our expectations. Rather, now is the time to dream big, tackle BIG and ambitious new projects, and make tomorrow better than today.”
You can learn more about Les from his website.
Check out the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop.
Or catch him at the upcoming ConGlomeration convention in Lousiville Kentucky April 11th – 13th
Les gave a talk at TEDxHunstsville. “Thinking BIG to Reach the Stars.”
Les was featured in this article, “The New Age of Exploration” in National Geographic January 2014 edition. (Regarding the resurgence of interest and excitement in space travel and referring to the old Apollo era, Les says: “In the conversation of certain dreamer-nerds, especially outside NASA, you can now hear echoes of the old aspiration and adventurousness—of the old craziness for space.”)
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Les Johnson @LesAuthor
Icarus Interstellar @icarusinterstel
Icarus Interstellar is a nonprofit scientific research and development organization. We are always accepting donations and creative ideas to raise funds to contribute to the goal of realizing interstellar flight before the year 2100. Any contribution helps and is greatly appreciated.