Only in science fiction have people flown in spaceships to explore the outer reaches of the solar system. But a yearlong study by NASA and DARPA aims to make long-distance spaceflight a reality -- a century from now.
The two agencies are working on a 100-Year-Starship study that will attempt to examine not only the technology needed but also a viable business model to enable long-distance manned space flight in 100 years, they said.
With the end of the space shuttle program scheduled for February 2011, NASA is turning its attention to sending manned spacecraft to Mars and beyond.
With the space agency's strategic agenda also shifting slightly to focus its technology research on the Earth's problems, such as global warming, NASA has enlisted the Department of Defense's technology-research arm to help it envision the future of space travel.
The basic goal of the 100-Year-Starship program is to develop a plan to engage with and facilitate private co-investment in long-distance manned spaceflight to support the time necessary to develop a viable program, according to the agencies.
The agencies anticipate cross-discipline work encompassing physics, mathematics, biology, economics, and psychological, social, political and cultural sciences, as well as the usual engineering and technology efforts needed for spaceflight.
DARPA also expects that technology and strategies developed by the study to support DoD mission areas, such as propulsion, energy storage, biology/life support, computing, structures and navigation, it said.
Beyond the DoD and NASA, the agencies hope the investments they're making in developing a plan also will inspire private entrepreneurs, the engineering and scientific community, and students interested in related disciplines to contribute to the study's ultimate goal.