Image: A worldship designed to hold generations of
humans, as imagined by space artist Adrian Mann.

Interstellar Flight: Adapting Humans for Space

by PAUL GILSTER on FEBRUARY 8, 2013

It’s surprising but gratifying that we can now talk about the ‘interstellar community.’ Just a few years back, there were many scientists and engineers studying the problems of starflight in their spare time, but when they met, it was at conferences dedicated to other subjects. The fact that the momentum has begun to grow is made clear by the explicitly interstellar conferences of recent memory, from the two 100 Year Starship symposia to the second Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop. Icarus Interstellar is mounting a conference this August in Dallas, and the Institute for Interstellar Studies plans its own gathering this fall in London.

Of course the Internet is a big part of the picture — Bob Forward and his colleagues could use the telephone and the postal service to keep in touch, but the energizing power of instant document exchange and online discussion was in the future. All this was apparent in Huntsville for the Tennessee Valley event, from which I have just returned. There was an active Twitter channel open and video streaming of the talks, and although I had little time to answer them, I was getting emails from many interested parties who couldn’t attend. Getting copies of papers and presentations after the conference closed can be managed in hours on the Net.

Starflight challenges not only everything we know about propulsion but also our understanding of human nature. If we are seriously considering human travel to such distant destinations, we are looking at decades of travel time at a bare minimum, or the possibility of a generation ship in which people live their lives entirely aboard the craft, which could take hundreds or even thousands of years to reach its destination. Astronaut Jan Davis, who gave the keynote in Huntsville, talked about the various problems of even short duration spaceflight based on her own experience of multiple Shuttle missions.

Read more: Interstellar Flight: Adapting Humans for Space — Centauri Dreams.

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