On the 29th August I gave a lecture at the Head Quarters of the British Interplanetary Society where the foundation of a new Initiative was first announced. This lecture represents the public launching of the Initiative and once the web site goes live, within days of this blog article, the world’s first dedicated interstellar Initiative will have been created. It is worth reflecting for a moment on the implications of this exciting event.
I regard the birth of interstellar studies as a subject, from 1952. This is because in that year, a Dr Les Shepherd, published a seminal paper in the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society (JBIS), titled Interstellar Flight. This was the first time that someone had first looked at the interstellar challenge as an engineering and physics problem, rather than just the wild speculation of pure science fiction that had come before. Not much research had been done on interstellar throughout the 1950s and 1960s, with the exception of a few unique examples such a Project Orion (Theodore Taylor, Freeman Dyson…) and the concept of the interstellar ramjet in 1960 (Robert Bussard). Interstellar really started to take off in the 1970s with projects such a the BIS Project Daedalus (Alan Bond, Tony Martin…), invention of various world ship concepts (Bond/Martin, Greg Matloff…) and the various propellantless options such as solar and microwave beam sails by some of the other interstellar pioneers (Robert Forward, Geoffrey Landis…). In the 1990’s the achievements started to turn to more exotic applications such as space drives and warp drives (Miguel Alcubierre, Marc Millis…). This remarkable body of work that has been built up over the last six decades, from that original 1952 paper, has allowed us to have an appreciation of the interstellar problems and potential solutions from a technical point of view. To use a physics phrase – the problem has been characterised and described.
The next task must be to take this large multi-decades effort of physicists, engineers, biologists, philosophers…, and turn it into an organized research program. This means setting up a well-structured program from which individuals and teams can chip away at the apparent obstacles to interstellar flight, leading directly to reliable studies and ultimately the creation of credible vehicle concepts. The Initiative aims to facilitate just this opportunity. We have set in motion the formation of a unique entity which will set examples of inspired leadership, ethical governance, co-operation and pioneering science discoveries. Many have said that “the time is not right for an Initiative”, or “our community is not yet big enough for an Initiative”, or “there is a lack of investment from outside to support such an Initiative”. We, the founders of the Initiative, respectfully disagree. Rather than waiting for those conditions to be met before embarking on this bold endeavour, we believe that those conditions can be catalysed, by showing people our vision of the future and rallying them behind our cause. Time will tell if this risk was premature or worth taking, but no-one can claim to be a visionary, if they do not try to reach beyond the achievements of their peers.
We in the Initiative believe that it is possible to create an interstellar capable society this century. We want to see blueprints for both robotic and crewed vessels made, and hopefully someday, for metal to cut metal and the actual Starships constructed. This is an exciting and visionary goal but what better way to spend ones short existence on this Earth, than to spend it in the fulfilment of peaceful human expansion out into space. If you share in this vision, then we in the Initiative urge you to join with us and help to make humanity become a space faring civilization in the coming decades ahead. Despite what others may say, it is not fantasy, it is not even science fiction; it is the future that we will it to be. To quote Sir Arthur C. Clarke’s 2nd law: “The only way of discovering the limits of the possible, is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.”
Kelvin F. Long