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interstellar travel

When will we set sail on an interstellar ship? The head of NASA believes that in the not so distant future. And also: what is behind a plan to send astronauts to Mars without returning them to Earth?

Illustration of a human expedition to Mars
Illustration of a human expedition to Mars

Keren Maron

Simon "Pete" Worden, director of NASA's Ames Research Center in California, was asked an innocent question in October 2010 during a panel discussion sponsored by the California-based Long Now Foundation. About a minute remained of the allotted time for the conversation, and the interviewer, who was probably looking for something to fill it with, joked with his guest: "Do you ever think we will leave our solar system, or are we trapped here forever?" Worden's answer surprised the host and the audience.

And so Worden said: "We have just started a project with DARPA (DARPA - the American Defense Research Agency), called 'Hundred Year Starship' [...] The idea is to establish a program that will invest in technologies that will allow us to develop starships within one hundred years." By this Worden meant spaceships capable of interstellar flight.

Who will pay?
Worden's words were recorded by only one reporter: Amara D. Angelica, editor of the scientific blog Angelica's article caused great excitement in the American media, but in the first days after its publication it was almost impossible to get confirmation of what was written. The American Fox network tried to schedule an interview with Worden to get more details, but the date of the interview was postponed twice, and in the end it was completely canceled.

The Fox people naturally expressed suspicion of cover-up attempts. The people of the Long Now Foundation waited about ten days to publish a recording of the conversation, which allowed the general public to hear the words with their own ears. The recording was uploaded to the Long Now website at the same time as the publication of DARPA's official response - which went out of its way to lower expectations.

From the DARPA press release it is implied that, although the title of the project is "Starship in a hundred years", it is actually a rather modest effort. DARPA does not claim to break the boundaries of the solar system - it is merely interested in funding research that will examine the possibility of putting together a business plan that will determine the technologies necessary to lead to starships being built in a hundred years.

It is possible that one of the reasons for the reservation is that NASA and DARPA have no intention of financing the project from their own pockets. According to what Worden said during the discussion, the budgets that the agencies intend to dedicate to the project are tiny (relatively). NASA has pledged to invest one hundred thousand dollars to promote the effort, and DARPA is donating one million dollars - sums lower than those, one can assume, that DARPA invested in a Christmas party for all its employees. In fact, Worden says, NASA and DARPA are hoping to raise funds from the private sector: they are "trying to persuade some billionaires to set up a 'Starship in a Hundred Years' fund."

Of course, as DARPA's announcement states, the technologies that will be developed as part of the project will be able to be used by the agency for its other purposes, i.e. defense of the United States. There is no doubt that the United States Army will be able to find a suitable use for technologies such as "superspace" (warp drive, a concept from the "Star Trek" series that means the ability to fly at the speed of light), and if someone like Bill Gates or Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg agrees to finance it - what's good.

One way ticket to Mars
In the interview, Worden talked about another NASA initiative, which is no less surprising than the starship project with DARPA. Worden pointed out unequivocally: "The main purpose of the space program is to colonize another world." He added that in the recent past such things would have been said only in "dark wells" and could have resulted in his dismissal.

It's no secret that the most suitable planet for colonization, apart from our old Earth, is Mars, which is located relatively close to Earth. A journey to it is expected to take only six months (under optimal conditions) - and among all the planets in the solar system it is the most similar to Earth in terms of environmental conditions. Mars has moderate gravity, although weaker than Earth's, and large amounts of water and carbon dioxide. With a very serious investment it is possible to sustain life there, but due to a lack of budget, NASA's progress towards this goal is very slow (although Worden believes that at the current rate, astronauts will be able to visit the moons of Mars by 2030).

An article recently published in the journal Cosmology offers an interesting idea for cutting the costs of visiting Mars - to finance a one-way trip only, and leave the astronauts on Mars forever. The authors of the article, Dirk Schulze-Makuch from Washington State University and Paul Davies from Arizona State University, point out that the heaviest cost for space travel involves returning the astronauts to Earth, and that giving up this stage of the journey may reduce the cost by about 80 %. The settlers on Mars will receive supplies and food, but they will never be able to return home.

The scientists emphasize that they do not consider a one-way trip to Mars a "suicide mission", but a real effort to settle a new world. They compare the journey to Mars to the voyages of discovery of the world in previous centuries: the astronauts will be like the settlers of the "New World" who left Europe and never expected to return to it. The authors suggest that the first settlers should be four volunteers, preferably over childbearing age. These volunteers will prepare the area, and little by little they will be joined by new settlers. According to the researchers, about 150 settlers on the planet would be enough to create a genetic diversity high enough to allow the population to continue sustaining itself through natural reproduction. The researchers propose that the colonists will live inside ice caves on the surface of Mars, which will provide them with water and oxygen, and that they will grow plants outside the caves in greenhouses that will be built by robots.

Even in the matter of settling on Mars, it is possible that NASA could be helped by billionaires from the private sector. Based on Worden's words (which has nothing to do with Schulz-McKoch's and Davis's article), Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are very interested in the possibility of sending people one-way to Mars. Worden claims that in a conversation he had with him, Page asked what the cost would be to send people one way to Mars. Worden replied that the price should be about $10 billion. Page replied that if they manage to lower the price to a billion or two - maybe there will be something to talk about.

Karen Maron is a science reporter and editor

21 תגובות

  1. I agree with Jacob: while a flight to Mars will somehow be possible in the next hundred years, a warp engine is a completely imaginary engine and is not within the reach of humanity in the next tens of thousands of years, it has not yet been proven at all that it is possible to shrink or expand space, and if it is proven, the distance to building such an engine is enormous

  2. Science is a scientific site, so how can you confuse facts.
    While it is difficult to reach and return from Mars, which is only a few light minutes away in light time.
    And in the near future there is a chance to fly there - in the next hundred years.
    But "about space" is another story altogether - imaginary science for its own sake and if at all it can be done it won't be for another hundred years, maybe only for another thousands of years.
    And this is for the simple reason that flying at the speed of light is not possible at all, a body moving at the speed of light has an infinite mass and the energy needed to move the spaceship is also infinite (the formula is found in Sears Zymanski's high school physics).
    If so, it is not clear what NASA's research is other than a waste of money.
    All the theories of flying at the speed of light, wormholes, superspaces, space bubbles, tachyons and more have been studied dozens of times and have been found to be technologically impossible.

  3. Nonsense... with a little imagination you can come up with an idea like this:
    Instead of launching a spaceship at once with all the parts and fuel for the round trip (as was the case for example in the flight to the moon), the spaceship to Mars will consist of several modules that will be launched separately into orbit around the Earth, after the launch they will be connected together (the spaceship itself and the propulsion system), at the end of the journey to Mars and before returning to Earth The spacecraft will connect to an additional propulsion module that will be pre-launched into orbit around Mars.
    So simple, cheap and most importantly: it can be done with launch vehicles that exist today.

  4. Oh oh, you can think that after 10 years they won't build spaceships back that can take part of the team

    Permanent settlement, indeed.
    There is no going back, no.

  5. I am against flying humans to Mars until they develop a propulsion method 100 times faster than the one that exists today. The psychological and health problems with flying for six months... a shame.

  6. There is no problem in financing this journey, just turn it into a plan
    reality television. Look at some TV networks and websites
    They will be happy to throw money at the journey.

  7. Why are you in such a hurry to settle other stars? If you already invest budgets for settlement in remote places, there are so many free areas in the world (including water-deserts and sand-oceans).
    People buy land on the moon (albeit cheaply, at a price of NIS 350 for 4 dunams, as advertised in Crazy Shop), and they don't seem to understand that geographically "difficult" places on Earth are much more favorable for settlement than other planets.
    It seems to me a waste to invest huge budgets in space, while on Earth we have so many problems that need to be solved.

  8. I suggest sending Ahmadinejad to Mars. Many people will volunteer to fund it including me
    And most importantly, when he is there, the earth will be a much safer and pleasant place.

  9. Haim Cohen, learn to read. Mars is an ideal laboratory for cosmic research. I didn't say not to investigate, I said that the presence of humans on it will pollute it and block scientific research.
    The robotics of today and certainly of tomorrow, solves the matter in an ideal way. Humans have no advantage on Mars, since they use robotic tools anyway. The distance is small (in cosmic terms) and remote control has been known for a long time.
    The "scientists" get paid to explain to non-scientists what they want to hear. If you notice, those who don't get paid are telling us the truth.

  10. To 9:
    The whole idea of ​​a Mars settlement is to make it suitable for human life without special aids, like on Earth. That means atmosphere change, climate change, and also the distribution of terrestrial organisms on Mars.
    In my opinion, stupidity is detailing facts while ignoring that reality can be changed. Maybe it will be very difficult, maybe it will take a very long time, but in the end it is not impossible.

  11. I don't know how crazy people like these "scientists" are paid.
    Here are some figures that indicate stupidity if nothing else in the matter.
    General data: Visible brightness: up to -2.0; Equatorial diameter: 6,794 km; Average density: 3.9 g/cm228,000,000; Average distance from the sun: 9.3 km; Mass: 687% of the mass of the earth. It completes the orbit of the sun approximately once every 24 days, and a revolution around itself - once every 37 hours, 95 minutes, relative to the background of the stars. The atmosphere of Mars is very thin, and most of it is 2% carbon dioxide (CO63). Atmospheric pressure at ground level is less than one thousandth of an atmosphere. The average temperature at ground level is 0º- Celsius, and rarely exceeds XNUMXº Celsius.
    Given the thin atmosphere on the surface of the planet, and the low temperatures on the surface - minus 60 degrees Celsius on average. And Mars does not have a magnetic shield that can protect it from the solar wind. There is and will never be any biological existence on Mars.
    Only a dumb scientist could think of settling there. A scientific expedition is also problematic. It should be remembered that the presence of humans creates biological pollution that will block any way for future research. Sending sterile robotic equipment is the only way for scientific testing.

  12. Agree with 7. This is a claim I have been arguing for a long time. It is advisable to invest in robotics in order to send delegations of robots that will prepare the ground for the day when astronauts will land who will be the first colonists of Mars. Mars is not a welcoming place and just sending humans just to say we protected Mars is almost useless. Humans who reach Mars need to land on a prepared and equipped base

  13. I only skimmed the article, in any case I think the most correct thing would be to first send robots there to train the area (under control from Earth, and what is possible automatically and autonomously), that is, to build buildings, to prepare everything there that is needed, and only then to send my sons there people

    I recommend searching on Google (without quotes) the pair of words:

    The earth is Mars

    You will find some very interesting articles on the subject.

  14. There is no escaping the settlement of Mars. Evolution is valid not only for the earth, but for the entire universe. In order to survive, we must spread as much as possible.

  15. 150 people who are well chosen for their genetic diversity can probably satisfy the need for a wide genetic diversity - this is of course choosing from all species and types correctly and wisely. The genetic problem is not trivial but it is not the main one either. The big problem is a social problem. 150 pioneers who travel to settle a new world will give their lives for the human race in an experiment whose end is unknown. It is enough that two people do not get along with each other and already in percentages it is a conflict on the scale of the planet.

  16. I wouldn't be against such a mission either, although I'm sure my body wouldn't pass NASA's strict tests.

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