Interstellar Studies: Surveying the Landscape

by PAUL GILSTER on FEBRUARY 12, 2013

One of the things I love about writing Centauri Dreams is that I learn something new every day. Often this comes from the research needed for individual stories, but just as often it comes from readers suggesting new directions or seeing nuances in an earlier story that I had missed. Yesterday’s post on long-term thinking led to an exchange with Centauri Dreams regular NS, who questioned my ideas on longevity in the Middle Ages, and before long we were both digging up data to try to discover what the numbers really are. It’s an ongoing process, and if you’re interested in such arcana, you can follow it in yesterday’s comments thread.

If you’re just joining us and wondering why we’re discussing medieval longevity, it ties into what I was saying about long-haul construction projects like cathedrals, and the question of what a worker on one of these projects might have thought of his chances of seeing its completion. You can also chalk it up to a fascination with the Middle Ages that has always preoccupied me.

Of course, my interest in long-haul projects doesn’t mean I wouldn’t welcome much faster transportation methods to get to the stars than the worldships I sometimes write about. My friends at Icarus Interstellar have their own worldship study, Project Hyperion, in progress in the capable hands of Andreas Hein, but they also have as their centerpiece Project Icarus, which is an attempt to design a fusion starship that some of their members believe can fly in this century. This seems wildly optimistic to me but I would love to be proven wrong. Icarus Interstellar president Richard Obousy discussed all these matters at the recent workshop in Huntsville.

An Eye on Breakthrough Propulsion

“Interstellar Flight from Conception to Reality” was the title of his talk, and in it Obousy made the case that one of the drivers for the new enthusiasm for interstellar flight is the wildly accelerating pace of exoplanet discovery. He sees exploration as the ‘expression of a curious and energetic species,’ one also becoming aware of the need for planetary defense and the imperative for developing skills in deep space. But one of his key points — and I’ve heard him say this before — is that we tend to overestimate what we can do on a short time-frame, and underestimate what we can do over longer periods.

Read more: Interstellar Studies: Surveying the Landscape — Centauri Dreams.

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