Former astronaut Mae Jemison (above) has been given the top job by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), a special branch of the US Department of Defense. Before you get out your Vulcan salute, the 100-Year Starship Project isn’t quite what it sounds like, but it’s still very intriguing.
If you though it involved building a starship to last 100 years in space, or to have a starship built within the next 100 years, you’d be vaguely on the right track. The project’s aim is to find out how the private sector can be involved in advancing humanity’s quest to travel long distances in space. The official website states that the end result would be a “viable and sustainable model” in working with private companies (or company), rather than a one-shot cash-raising or research contract.
That said, the BBC, which originally reported Jemison’s new role, mentions a $US500,000 grant from DARPA is up for grabs, though the outlet was unable to verify this claim.
Seeing as the project has yet to get off the ground, building an actual starship is off the cards — at least for now. The FAQ is pretty clear: “Neither DARPA nor NASA is actually building a 100 Year Starship. We are planting seeds for an organisation. Consequently we are not taking starship crew applications at the present time.”
Going over Jemison’s credentials, you really couldn’t ask for a more qualified person. She speaks four languages (including Russian and Japanese), has served in the Peace Corps, is both an engineer and doctor and, most importantly of all, was the first astronaut to have a bit-part in Star Trek: The Next Generation as a transporter technician. Heck, if we can get transporter tech up and running over massive distances, would we even need starships?