Sometime in the mid-21st century, if all goes according to plan, Ralph McNutt will leave the solar system.


Or rather his brainchild will: a potential NASA mission, provisionally called Interstellar Probe, that, in one form or another, McNutt has been questing after for the past half-century—ever since he was a starry-eyed high school student pondering humankind’s next giant leap after Apollo astronauts walked on the moon. Today McNutt is a 65-year-old physicist at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and, as the project’s principal investigator, the vital force behind Interstellar Probe. By his count, nearly 200 scientists and engineers around the globe are now actively working to make the mission a reality, many of whom he enlisted personally.


“The Interstellar Probe has the potential of being Lao-tzu’s ‘first step of a 1,000-mile journey,’” McNutt says, quoting a famous line from the Tao-te Ching. “This could be our first deliberate step to the stars. The choice is ours.”

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