My mind got a chance to wildly expand a few weeks ago as I participated in back-to-back meetings investigating big ideas in space. Mind expansion is good: it psychologically diminishes today’s political problems (like the NASA budget) and program setbacks (like Russia’s Phobos spacecraft loss). The two big ideas were moving an asteroid toward Earth for human exploration, and interstellar flight. The two meetings overlapped and for me were separated only by a cross-country red-eye flight—a small constraint on mind expansion.
The first meeting was an Asteroid Retrieval Mission workshop sponsored by the Keck Institute of Space Studies at Caltech. The second meeting was a public symposium sponsored by DARPA and NASA in Orlando, Florida.
Interstellar flight is a vision for some and science fiction for others. I recall a discussion I had with Freeman Dyson a few years ago about whether we were further from interstellar flight than was Leonardo DaVinci from the airplane. I thought so. But DARPA, with a little cooperation from NASA, conceived an idea called the 100 Year Starship (100 YSS) to create an organization that would focus the vision by public engagement and technical studies about sending humans on the ultimate voyage. The Orlando symposium attracted over 500 people over three days discussing many aspects of interstellar flight (see “The journey of 100 years begins with a single weekend”, The Space Review, October 10, 2011).