February 10, 2013

Let’s build a starship already

Image: NASA

The single most expensive object ever built by humans, is visible to about 90% of us on earth. This treasure is also the 3rd brightest object in the sky (after our sun and moon) when it arcs into view. Its intelligent inhabitants are the hopeful tip of our exploration beyond this planet.

The International Space Station is the ninth that astronauts have lived in, since Salyut back in the ’70s. Circling the planet in an environment that leeches strength from bones and bathes them in radiation, space is hard even the fittest body.

How long can our bodies – and sanity – survive beyond the comforting tug of Earth? Thousands of research projects, like the Tomatosphere, are finding how to stretch more than just our own genes beyond their current evolutionary bounds.

Cranking the limits beyond that is The 100 Year Starship, a jointly funded project of DARPA (the good folks who birthed the Internet) and NASA. It’s a call to our collective ingenuity and utterly bonkers audacity. Interstellar flight.
A global collaborative will endeavour to make it so.

Taking up the task ignites not only our imagination, but the undeniable human need to push ourselves to accomplishments greater than any single individual.

Image Credit:


For the record, I’m more Star Trek, than Star Wars. An INTP on the Myers-Briggs spectrum (I keep re-taking the test every few years in the hopes that I’d morphed into something cooler. Alas). A Quantified Selfer. So living in a country where intellectualism is actively scorned by its leaders; where the nation’s children scores in the lowest rungs for maths and science literacy; but where the top-ranked downloads in the app stores, jostle between religion or sex apps; is mind-bendingly uncomfortable. Like being caught in a temporal warp between centuries, in a dreadful time machine (ahem, transporter) blunder. The atmosphere is not conducive to intelligent life.
So we’re not producing rocket-scientists here at the bottom of Africa. Who cares?

What part of ourselves becomes brittle if we don’t turn on the lights for the nerdier ones to shine from unexpected corners. 

In a real sense all life is inter-related. All men are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. – Martin Luther King Jr

The science, creativity and global collaboration required to fulfill the for-now-impossible dream of getting to travel among the stars, can only be realised by making our home planet better. Though it is hard, there is very little quite as satisfying to the human spirit as doing something difficult and dangerous, with a diverse bunch of people you trust and respect. We need to find the intelligent life, around us first.

I’m re-entering the noise and gravity to hunt out the bright ones. And bring back a little of the sexy (and fun) in being smart. It may just help us live long and prosper.



PS. Captain of the the 100 Year Starship project is Dr Mae Jemison, first African American woman in space. And Star Trek fan cast member.

mae jemison trekkie

I want to make sure we use all our talent, not just 25 percent. Don’t let anyone rob you of your imagination, your creativity, or your curiosity. It’s your place in the world; it’s your life. Go on and do all you can with it, and make it the life you want to live. – Dr Mae Jemison 

Mae Jemison Astronaut



SPACE CADETS, nerd it up:

listenNo post would be complete without a podcast recommendation! Listen to Dr Mae on Wait Wait
Don’t Tell Me





February 10, 2013