Billionaires wanted for starship plan

For some billionaires, space travel is a cause worth big bucks. The examples range from Virgin Group chairman Richard Branson, who’s putting together what’s likely to be the [first suborbital spaceline][1], to founder Jeff Bezos, who is backing the publicity-shy [Blue Origin space venture][2] (and benefiting from NASA funding).

But how far are deep-pocketed space fans willing to go? Pete Worden, the director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, recently hinted that billionaires are being recruited to kick in contributions for a deep-space mission known as “the Hundred Year Starship.” The idea builds on the long-discussed concept of sending people on one-way missions to space destinations, in hopes of jump-starting colonization of the final frontier.

Worden is quoted as saying NASA has already committed $100,000 to the project, with the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency providing another $1 million in funding. His comments, made at the Long Now Foundation’s [“Long Conversation”][3] event on Oct. 16 in San Francisco, were reported by [KurzweilAI’s Amara D. Angelica][4].

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Worden said NASA and DARPA have “just started” the project. “We also hope to inveigle some billionaires to form a Hundred Year Starship fund,” he was quoted as saying.

“The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds,” he said. “Twenty years ago, you had to whisper that in dark bars and get fired.”

Actually, quite a few people have been talking about the idea, although deep-space colonization has not previously been mentioned as part of NASA’s official space vision. Two researchers [discussed the options for one-way trips to Mars][5] this month in the Journal of Cosmology, and at this month’s International Astronautical Congress in Prague, [experts reviewed the possibilities][6] for interstellar trips.

Worden said he has discussed the potential price tag for one-way trips to Mars with Google co-founder Larry Page, telling him such a mission could be done for $10 billion. “His response was, ‘Can you get it down to $1 [billion] or $2 billion?’ So now we’re starting to get a little argument over the price,” Angelica quoted Worden as saying.

When it comes to sending colonists to other planetary systems, Page and his fellow billionaires shouldn’t expect a quick return on their investment. “If we expect to be sending hundreds of people out to colonize another planet, we’re really talking about something that’s going to take 100 years or more to really make happen effectively,” Derrick Pitts, chief astronomer at the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia, said on MSNBC today.

Click on the video above to hear the whole discussion, then add your comments below.

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