Now is the time to begin discussing interstellar space exploration.
In 1865, Jules Verne published From Earth to the Moon a fantastic tale about launching a ship to the moon.
Approximately 100 years later, we went there.
It took 100 years to go from the idea of going to the moon gaining popular traction through mass media to that idea becoming reality.
And in 1969 that is exactly what we did. From popular conception to actualized realization, it took 100 years to get to the moon.
Jump forward to the future, and barely a year ago, most people alive had not given any serious thought to getting to another star system.
True, mostly because of Star Trek, a great many people had imagined traveling to another star system. However, most people had no understanding what interstellar travel actually meant.
Then in November of 2014, Christopher Nolan released Interstellar.
Interstellar was a box office hit smash. And it was heavy on the science of interstellar space exploration, including abstract concepts like speed of light travel and quantum warp field mechanics.
It was as if a great shift had taken place in the Force.
Suddenly, almost overnight, around the world people had a working grasp of the meaning and difficulties of interstellar space travel. People were openly discussing the science of it. The science of traveling to another star (and star system) had become popularized.
And in his own way, Christopher Nolan may have set in motion for interstellar space exploration what Jules Verne had done for getting us to the moon: popularizing both the idea and the essential concepts.
Then last month NASA announced the discovery of Keplar 452b, an earth-like planet located in the “sweet spot” habitable zone of another star 1400 light years away from us.
Keplar 452b is roughly 5 times larger than earth. And theoretically we could live there. Even more interesting, there may already be life there. Maybe even intelligent life such as ourselves.
1400 years away is an incomprehensible distance. A light year is the distance light travels over one year’s time moving at 186,000+ miles per second.
(To put that speed into perspective, 186,000+ miles per second means getting to the moon in two rapid blinks of the eye.)
That’s 186,000+ miles per second for 1400 years.
In other words, we are not driving there. Not by any contemporary means.
However, now is the time to begin discussing how we are going to get there.
On September 4–5, at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, will play host to Starship Congress 2015: Interstellar Hackathon.
Being staged by non-profit Icarus Interstellar, the preeminent interstellar space science advocacy organization in the world, Starship Congress is the first ever repeating summit of interstellar and deep space science organizations, scientists, researchers, and advocates.
The goal of the Starship Congress summit? Hack interstellar space exploration as well as the logistical challenges of how to build a starship.
“Hack interstellar space?” “Build a starship?” True, there is pretty much no way these goals will be accomplished this year or even in the next 10 years. Or 20. Or 50.
But perhaps there is a way within the next 100 years. And that is the point.
Using the model of Jules Verne’s success — of popularizing the ideas and concepts of traveling to the moon only to have those concepts realized 100 years later — the goal of Icarus Interstellar and Starship Congress is to encourage discussion and thoughts on the challenges represented by interstellar space exploration, and to use media successes such as Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar (as well as science-heavy video games such as EVE Online and Kerbal Space Program) as a type of ideological gravity assist to perpetuate and boost the momentum of interest in traveling to another star system’s world…even if not in our lifetimes…in order to “plant trees in whose shade we know we will never sit” by the year 2100.
It is for this reason Starship Congress 2015 is being staged at Drexel University in Philadelphia. So that today’s dreamers of interstellar exploration who are tomorrow’s space professionals have the opportunity to access and engage with present-day space science professionals. Besides the Hackathon, there is a call for papers, a poster contest, and a job fair.
In order to make this happen, Icarus Interstellar has an active Kickstarter campaign going to fund Starship Congress 2015:
Here is the Kickstarter campaign page. Starship Congress 2015 is open to the public. Students are not only welcome to attend, they are encouraged.
Imagine 100 years in the future to 2115 when a descendant of ours looks back and scribes out these very words:
“In 2015, Icarus Interstellar staged Starship Congress, a fantastic summit dedicated to launching a starship to another world. Yet in 2098 that is exactly what we we did.”
“It took nearly 100 years to go from the idea of launching a starship gaining popular traction through mass media to that idea becoming reality.”
It can happen.
Which means the time to be thinking about starships is now.
We did it!
Mike Mongo is writer, space blogger, and STEAM educator. He has worked as an astronaut teacher for the past eight years in public and private schools inside and outside the USA, and is chief brand & culture officer for Icarus Interstellar as well as strategic director of Starship Congress. He is author of The Astronaut Instruction Manual. He lives with his wife in Key West, FL, where he writes, swims, and collects air miles.