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NASA Reveals Hundred Year Starship Program 351

cmansley writes "NASA Ames Director Simon Worden revealed that NASA Ames has 'just started a project with DARPA called the Hundred Year Starship,' with $1 million funding from DARPA and $100K from NASA. Worden said 'Larry [Page] asked me a couple weeks ago how much it would cost to send people one way to Mars and I told him $10 billion, and his response was, "Can you get it down to 1 or 2 billion?"'"
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NASA Reveals Hundred Year Starship Program

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  • Re:yikes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Splab ( 574204 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:01AM (#33959762)

    A billion here and a billion there, who's counting?

    What one really should notice about this is they can get someone on Mars for $10 billion; why the fuck haven't they started yet? 20 billion dollars poured into the US economy, into research and development and finally into production would probably have done a heck of a lot more than the trillions wasted on trying to save a few fat cats.

  • by Rogerborg ( 306625 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:20AM (#33959926) Homepage

    Then offer $2 billion to put someone on Mars. The Chinese probably won't take your money for political reasons, but I'm damn sure India will, probably buying Chinese rocket parts off the shelf.

    Oh, wait - you meant, how can we give $2 billion to Americans to do it? Well, forget it - you need to spend that much just on the Oversight Steering Committee Review Board's annual team building retreat to Aspen.

  • Re:yikes (Score:5, Interesting)

    by shrykk ( 747039 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:23AM (#33959962)
    In 1996 Robert Zubrin and others proposed a $55 billion programme for a series of Mars missions, Mars Direct []. You can read about it in a very interesting book called 'The Case for Mars'.

    The key points of the mission were

    • staying on Mars for 6 months between launch windows rather than a few days (digging in for radiation protection).
    • taking a seed stock of 12 tonnes of hydrogen and using a series of chemical reactions with various elements found on Mars to produce rocket fuel for the way back.
    • sending repeat missions including an initial unmanned mission, so that each mission makes the return fuel for the next one, giving a margin of safety. There would be multiple missions and a colony established.

    This still seems to me to be the most sensible and effective way to put people on Mars. Preliminary back-and-forth trips to the moon not needed. Establishes a genuine human presence instead of just planting a flag. And at a cost which in the light of numbers being thrown around during the financial crisis which looks like a bargain.

  • by SengirV ( 203400 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:23AM (#33959968)

    Why have we not started a project based on a scaled up(more fuel) ion-propulsion engine to send something out of the solar system? We have our ears craning to the sky to hear a 1/2 watt voyager signal, but we could be sending something else deeper, faster, more powerful and with a lot more scientific instruments on it.

  • nuclear accelerator (Score:3, Interesting)

    by aashenfe ( 558026 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:24AM (#33959970) Journal
    So how about a nuclear accelerator ring as a propulsion device. Instead of the two proton beams colliding, they would be projected from each edge of the accelerator ring. The ring should be lighter than an earth based one because a vacuum is already present. A nuclear power plant would be required to power the ring, and a tank of hydrogen would be required as a proton source (Unless hydrogen or protons can be harvested from the solar wind).

    The perfect engine would generate 1G of acceleration over a multiple year period.

    With this engine, a trip to Mars should be a rather shorter endeavour.

    Anybody have any idea what it would take to build such a thing, Or how fast such a thing could get to Mars at it's closest approach assuming 1G of acceleration?
  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @09:46AM (#33960224)

    You know what I've been thinking? I'm thinking that if the US doesn't go ahead eventually with the idea of a one-way trip to claim the title of First Country on Mars, that China, with their, how do we say, somewhat greater "willingness to sacrifice the individual citizen for the greatness of national prestige" (so to speak), is going to get to it first, and a lot sooner than we all think.

    And seriously, since it involves space travel, I'm willing to say good for them.

  • Re:yikes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by rtb61 ( 674572 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:12AM (#33960602) Homepage

    The issue really seems to be the lack of a space race. So how do why drive the Russian and Chinese to compete in space and forget this competing militarily crap. Perhaps the meme driven over and over again, he who dominates in space dominates the world, driven over and over again might work.

    You know, the first country with a manned expedition to Mars get to keep it along with the idea that Terra forming Mars would not be all that difficult.

  • by ledow ( 319597 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:32AM (#33960864) Homepage

    Your first assumption is wrong. Because there is a point of diminishing gains at which it can ONLY be worthwhile to go then. That's *not* now. Give it a few generations (more if the US wants to dismantle more of it's space budgets).

    Second, those benefits will be few. Because, for a start, interstellar communication will be incredibly lagged and slow and unlikely to yield enough useful data. If it was useful, a probe would be much better. How are the best probes we've ever sent into the deepest part of space doing on collecting science and communicating back? Not too well. How much data have they sent us that we can use to build a replacement that does a better job? Not much. How many governments have thrown money after sending a probe that far on accomplishing the exact same thing already? Zero.

    Your third point has merit, but again that suggests that (basically) 50% of the money we spent on doing such a mission would be wasted on poor attempts that we later improved, surpassed and overtook (literally).

    Man's best spaceflight achievements were done on the basis of almost zero previous sojourns - first man in space, first man on moon, Voyagers, Mars Rovers (although we did have some stuff in orbit at the time). The fact that we'll "improve it later" doesn't mean we couldn't do that if we just waited anyway. Experience is good, but 25 years of technological advances in similar but unrelated fields is a hell of a lot better than the (possible) results of a single-shot mission (that might fail) which we won't be able to get significant data from because we will overtake it (and thus be travelling into the unknown before it ever would) before it can get that far.

  • by mdm-adph ( 1030332 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @10:52AM (#33961072)

    1) We cannot already "send someone and get them back" from Mars, unless you're a member of an extraterrestrial race, and in that case, greetings.

    2) We still talk about the settlers who landed at Roanoke, and still pretty much give them the honorary title of "first," even though they all died. Catch my drift?

  • by MozeeToby ( 1163751 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:07AM (#33961248)

    There's always the idea of planning for your current ship being overtaken by the next wave of the fleet []. That way, each ship would only have to be completely self sufficient for 20 years, and the first ships wouldn't have to be inhabited at all, they could just be loaded up with a huge amount of some important resource (water, nuclear fuel, whatever you're going to need). And if propulsion really improves as fast as you seem to think it will, the ships could easily request what resources they will need; only problem is that it assumes your base on Earth will still have the power and influence to continue launching ships. You'd arrive at the destination at the speed of your slowest ship, but by then you'd have a fleet with many different capabilities, a larger population, and with more resources than you ever could with a single ship.

  • by brinic ( 938562 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:12AM (#33961314)
    There are a number of reasons to send missions sooner. First, going through the design process sooner will lead to more discoveries that might speed up research in space travel technologies or lead to other discoveries that might be useful here on Earth. Also, we are not guaranteed of producing a better space craft simply by waiting. The best way to improve our technological capabilities in terms of space travel is through actually traveling in space. The other advantage of sending a mission sooner is that if some cataclysmic disaster affected earth, at least the pioneers would be saved. So, we are increasing the chances of human survival simply by launching a mission, even if it is overtaken by faster ships later.
  • by sznupi ( 719324 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:16AM (#33961370) Homepage

    That ignores how many interesting targets beyond outer planets are well within 100 years of probe travel with current capabilities. How speed of Voyagers was determined by their mission and budget, not only technical limitations (a Saturn V with NERVA upper stage and on the probe, borrowed from the Soviets, ion xenon thruster with nuclear reactor could all give a much higher speed, and nothing worse from what we can do few decades later; but it would actually limit their usefulness, limit flyby times during Grand Tour)

    Generation ships are overall a horrible idea - if we'll even do direct interstellar travel, it will be probably by the means of embryo colonization. Even then at most 0.2c or so, possibly not more than 0.1. And probably just gradual spread across our scattered disk and Oort cloud; ultimately also other Oort clouds. What's the point in "overtaking" in such setting anyway? Contrary to wishes, we will almost certainly not find a nice semi-habitable planet nearby, there's no reason to rush just to move your space habitat in a virtually identical place.

  • Eheh (Score:3, Interesting)

    by SmallFurryCreature ( 593017 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:17AM (#33961386) Journal

    So you would tell the wright bothers not to bother, because someone is sure to come along with a better design soon, a better design based on... oh wait.

    I don't think you got how science works. For the next generation X, you need the current generation. This ain't a game of Civ were you can cheat your way from the stone age to the exodus.

  • by elrous0 ( 869638 ) * on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:20AM (#33961420)
    A project that they had so little faith in that they abandoned it in 1975 to pump money into projects with greater potential, like developing telepathic spies (wish I were making that up).
  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:22AM (#33961450)

    You have to build something and study how it works, BEFORE you can overcome its limitations. Technological development is mostly evolutionary - you have to take the baby steps before you can run. There is NO MAGIC!

  • by quax ( 19371 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:32AM (#33961540)

    And there is a very easy fix for that []. This is not a new concept. E.g. you would have noticed it if you watched 2001 [] attentively.

  • by tnk1 ( 899206 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @11:33AM (#33961560)

    In a perfect world, you would be right. We would just wait until we are ready.

    The problem is that is not how it works. First, you need to not only build up competency, you also need to build confidence that we can do things like this. No one will want to launch an interstellar craft without having tried something that goes some substantial fraction of the way. There are practical reasons for this, but also morale reasons. No one is going to feel confident in going interplanetary to interstellar in one single program even if the theory is solid. Considering that we know absolutely nothing about interstellar space first-hand, it is not an unreasonable attitude to take.

    Second, even if we accept that approach and are willing to wait until the theory tells us we are ready, we are making assumptions about the rate of scientific and engineering advances that may not be justifiable. I know people love that we are in an age of increasing, even accelerating scientific and technological achievement, but there is absolutely no reason that such a rate of change has to continue. For one thing, the simple fact of the energy crisis is a clear and present limiting factor to advancement. Without almost exponentially increasing amounts of available energy and resources, we are unlikely to be able to sustain forward momentum at the present rate, let alone at an ever increasing rate. Beyond that, I hope I don't have to explain the effect of any one of the developing global conflicts on the possibility of a slow down, or even a dark age in our future. It is entirely possible that any ship that can be launched *will* be the one that arrives first.

    Any interstellar journey that has a reasonable chance of success is going to be the most important thing mankind has ever accomplished to that date. Any reasonable level of success means that humanity's eventual extinction ceases to be an absolute certainty. I can't see why we wouldn't want to launch as soon as possible, even if after 20 years or so, one of our later designs drops out of warp in front of the ship and picks up the crew before they have even gotten a tenth of the way there. And no one can tell me that twenty years of studying interstellar space itself is not worth the effort even if it is not the primary mission.

  • Re:yikes (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Muad'Dave ( 255648 ) on Wednesday October 20, 2010 @12:34PM (#33962406) Homepage

    If AMSAT [] is a valid example, volunteer work can make miracles happen on the cheap. Amateur radio folk have launched dozens of volunteer-built satellites [] as ballast on existing launches. They have recently started making birds large enough to be primary payloads. The money for the launches is donated.

Logic is the chastity belt of the mind!