The far-out research-friendly Defense Advanced Research Project Agency, the government group who laid the ground for the Internet, recently gathered experts and dreamers alike to discuss the possibility of next generation space travel. That could include sending humans to Alpha Centauri, the star nearest our own Sun. Proposals included a massive spacecraft powered by nuclear-fusion engines or billowing solar sails to capture radioactive energy.
What’s the Big Idea?
Reaching another star poses obstacles on a different order of magnitude than, say, travelling to the moon or Mars. “If Earth were in Orlando and the closest star system, Alpha Centauri, were in Los Angeles, then N.A.S.A.’s two Voyager spacecraft, the most distant manmade objects, have traveled just one mile.” The Apollo Moon mission set a human speed record of 26,000 miles per hour on its return to Earth but in order to reach another star in decades, rather than centuries, we would need to travel 10,000 times faster.