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DARPA Kickstarts Space Exploration with 100-Year Starship Project

DARPA's 100-Year Starship study could give a boost to alternative energy technologyThe Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency has launched a new program in collaboration with NASA that is sure to intrigue Trekkies everywhere. Called the 100-Year Starship Study, it’s designed to lay out what it would take to create an organization that could boldly go where no man (or woman, or transgender person) has gone before. The last couple of times DARPA got its thing on for a big project, the result was a trip to the moon and the development of the Internet, so it’s interesting to look ahead to the impact the project could have on our favorite topic, alternative energy.

DARPA and the Sputnik Moment

The 100-Year Starship project kicked off last fall and it passed an initial milestone in January with a strategic planning workshop.  Just about a week or so after the workshop, President Obama gave his State of the Union address calling upon the nation to invest its resources in another “Sputnik moment,” and come to think of it DARPA was commissioned in 1958 directly in response to the Sputnik launch, so that’s a neat little coincidence (in another not-quite-cosmic coincidence, the Space Shuttle program is winding down and hundreds of experienced NASA employees will be looking for a new project to occupy their time).

Baby Steps for the 100-Year Starship

About 30 participants were involved in the January workshop. Half were from DARPA and NASA, and the others were a mashup of science professionals and futurists that Gene Roddenberry would appreciate, including one of the original developers of the network leading to the Internet, two science fiction writers, and even a representative from the film industry. The idea was not to get the research going (that’s skipping a few steps ahead), but to begin describing the factors that would go into a sort of “business plan” to create an organization with a 100-year funding and leadership platform.

The 100-Year Starship and Transformative Energy

President Obama has also breathed life into ARPA-E, a new agency charged with the DARPA-like task of transforming the way we create, distribute and use energy. Transformative energy will of course be the key to making interstellar travel a reality, so it is possible that ARPA-E’s terrestial progress will cross over to the new project. For that matter, give the visionary technology displayed in the original Star Trek series, the involvement of writers and futurists in the 100-Year Starship project could yield some interesting results for energy here on Earth.

Image: Starship Enterprise by f650biker on

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Tina specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Spoutible.


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