National Aeronautics and Space Administration

Glenn Research CenterGlenn Research Center

Dr. Marc Millis

Breakthrough Propulsion and Interstellar Travel

June 19, 2007

Marc Millis’ talk given on June 19, 2007 was an overview of the why, when, how, where and who of interstellar travel.  He discussed the societal factors necessary to attempt such a mission and the other resources, funding and technology, required to complete one.

He first covered the four main motivations for interstellar travel: survival, human nature, ego, and intellectual stimulation discussing how each different motivation had its pros and cons.  The ‘when’ of the mission had the major barrier of the Incessant Obsolescence Postulate which theorizes that regardless of when a mission was sent, better technology would be developed and deployed before the first mission could complete its tasks and would consequently be obsolete, meaning that a mission should never be deployed as it would be a waste of time.  However if the IOP could be set aside and the ‘how’ addressed, the first concern might be technology.

Millis divided this area into four groups by availability, giving the percent likelihood of success and cost for each group.  Next, Millis tackled the time-span dilemma, first stating the list of possible mission time-spans by relevance to current society and gave an upper limit as 75 years.  The first interstellar mission would most likely be to a HabCat star, one which had planets that might be habitable for humans.

If this star were within 15 to 20 ly, the mission would have to travel 6 to 25% the speed of light in order to stay within the 75 year time limit.  A limiting factor on how soon a mission like this would viable (estimated to be 2-4 centuries) is power requirements.  Even for a smaller vessel, a minimum of 1017 to 1020 J would be needed.

To conclude the talk, Millis addressed the attributes and downfalls of researchers in general and gave several standards to determine if a researcher’s work is truthful and usable.  He also discussed the pros and cons of doing research at a NASA center and gave advice about how to choose one’s work and peers.

—Jessica Snyder