back to article US gov says it can't build an interstellar starship

Space enthusiasts will no doubt rejoice at the news that the wealthiest and most powerful organisation yet assembled by the human race – to wit, the US government – reports early progress in its plan to build an interstellar starship capable of carrying people to other star systems than our own. Enthusiasts may be less pleased …


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  1. Robert E A Harvey

    long time scale

    This timescale is another US conspiracy - this time to cheat me out of my chance to go!

    1. Captain DaFt

      Why wait?

      You can always go the DIY route, here's a site to get you started:

      Oh, and hang out on all the "crank" gravitics sites. Sure they're mostly a bunch of looneys, but the corollary of Sturgeon's Law is that 10 % of everything is actually useful! (Good luck on finding the useful bits though!)

      Just remember; It's the ones farting around in their sheds with a daft idea that's historically provided the major breakthroughs in technology.

      (It'll keep you occupied at the least, and hey, you might get lucky and actually invent something useful!)

      1. Mike Flugennock
        Thumb Down

        shed-built starship?

        Captain DaFt sez on 02.10.11 at 20:34gmt:

        "Just remember; It's the ones farting around in their sheds with a daft idea that's historically provided the major breakthroughs in technology."

        True dat, but I somehow think that something as sophisticated as FTL spacecraft propulsion systems won't be something that a tinkerer can build in his garage.

        The airplane, the liquid-fueled rocket, or the Apple I are one thing -- but FTL drive? I sure as hell wouldn't get aboard an FTL-drive spacecraft built in somebody's frickin' garage. (Why am I somehow reminded of an old Benny Hill sketch?)

        1. Captain DaFt

          I'll bet pears to pounds...

          If you ever do get on a FTL driven ship, it's engine will be based on one designed in somebody's shed!

        2. thecakeis(not)alie

          Who needs FTL?

          Build a relativistic sublight craft and just don't look back. The real block is not the lack of FTL. The real block is the lack of a reliable and cost-effective surface-to-orbit capability. This damned gravity well we are stuck in causes all sorts of problems. We need the ability to launch several hundred thousands tonnes of material into space. Once that is accomplished, we can build an infrastructure that allows us to mine asteroids and refine their ores without having to come down into a deep gravity well to get the job done.

          At that point, screw Earth. It’s too big and too crowded. Let’s get out into the belt, mine us some smallish rocks, build a generational ship and start seeding life all over the galaxy!

          Additional bonus goes to anyone who can develop a method of reliably freezing embryos of non-human species for hundreds of years at a time. It’d be cool to be able to planoform some other rocks and drop smallish colonies of humans along side some non-human animal and vegetable life. Keep that evolution thing ticking!

  2. Sekundra

    Job Applications?

    I'd actually lower my very reasonable day rate to join this Project... 89 year timeline should cover the mortgage quite nicely :)

  3. Sabine Miehlbradt

    Oh come on...

    We all know you just have to fake a warp drive starting up and the spaceship gets delivered straight to your planetstep.

    1. thecakeis(not)alie

      Sort of.

      That only works if the species detecting your warp signature is as peacefully naive as Vulcans. Then you can storm their ship with a single shotgun and start an interstellar empire. Well, until some dick from another universe comes along in a transporter accident and convinces one of the aforementioned Vulcans that all this murdering and ghoulishness is bad karma.

      Somewhere shortly after that you disband your military and get nommed by a hoard of angry second-rate superpowers who teamed up to shoot you in the face. Then you get the fun time of spending over a hundred years as slaves to some fairly unpleasant and insane folks until you develop the technology to cross through the looking glass. Once there, you steal some tech of your own and start a little rebellion…

      Moral of the story? When you kill the Vulcans and take their ship…FINISH THE JOB. You don’t need any of them logical peaceniks hanging around a century later to tear down all your hard work.

      Hmm…too much Trek, methinks…

  4. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

    "US gov - the wealthiest"

    I don't know whether facepalming hard is enough of a visceral response to such blue-eyed naiveté.

    14 trillion dollars in the red, on a nowhere trip into stagflation and .... "the wealthiest"?

    Before thinking about "starships" they should maybe manage to clean the open bogs.

    1. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      RMS wealth ??

      To do a proper statistical analysis, you take the RMS of wealth; hat nasty minus sign simply disappears, and there you are, the weathiest...

  5. TheOtherHobbbes
    Thumb Up


    All the gubment-hating libertarian crazies want to leave Earth to the rest of us?

    Excellent! Where I do send the cash?

    1. Destroy All Monsters Silver badge

      We have been there before

      As Murray Rothbard wrote in 1979:

      As the debate intensified, the answer to this puzzle became all too clear: these soothsayers and space cadets don't really care all that much for liberty. They don't in fact, care very much for the real world or reality. What motivates them is not the prospect of liberty but spinning phantom scenarios of the never-never land of Eden. (...)

      But this is indeed a religion — it is not a political philosophy, and it sure as hell is not political action. Yet libertarians have not come to promise human beings a technocratic utopia; we have come to bring everyone freedom, the freedom of each individual to pursue whatever his or her dreams of the future may be. Or even to have no vision of the future. Libertarianism is surely not all of life; it brings the gift of political freedom to every person to pursue his own goals. His goals, not ours. To call — as a political party — for a specific vision of the future, the space-cadet vision, implies that that particular goal is going to be imposed on everyone, whether they like it or not.

      This is not freedom: it is totalitarianism. Primitivists, after all, have rights too. They too should have the freedom, if they wish, to live unmolested on their own. Thus, neither primitivists nor space cultists should be given a forum within the Libertarian Party to promote and impose their own favorite level of technology.

      To put it succinctly: the goal of libertarianism is freedom, period. No more and no less. Anything less is a betrayal; but anything more is equally a betrayal of liberty, because it implies imposing our own goals on others. To be a libertarian must mean that one upholds liberty as the highest political end not necessarily one's highest personal end. To confuse the issue, to mix in any sort of vision — technocratic or futuristic or any other — with politics, is to abandon liberty as that highest political goal, and at the very least to destroy the very meaning of a political movement or organization.

      Oddly enough, space and the space program — which the great revisionist historian Harry Elmer Barnes aptly termed the "moondoggle" and "astrobaloney'! — is precisely the area where the government has exercised total domination. Such futurist heroes of our "libertarian" space cultists as Dr. Gerard K. O'Neill are government-financed scientists and researchers whose projected "space colonies" will not be the "free space colonies" of our space cultists' dreams but projects totally planned and operated by the federal government. Yet instead of engaging in sober critiques of the governmental space program, our space cadets embrace these state futurists as virtually their own.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        William Gibson sorted that one out

        in Neuromancer.

        Once the governments have started chucking more and more stuff up into orbit, there'll be a large number of vessels up there for construction, navigation, communications, transport, etc. Most of which can be bolted, welded and generally bodged together into a small, cramped rudimentary space station.

        At the very least, with hundreds of tonnes of material being blasted into orbit and beyond the cost of a heavy-lift rocket will drop considerably.

        The troublesome bit of space travel is getting up there. After that you're working with a pressure difference of 1atm (14.5psi, or 'approximately sod all' in engineering terms- and you can lower that quite a bit too if you control the gas ratios), bugger all extra radiation (in orbit around the Earth, anyway), etc. So nothing that can't be held together with rubber sheet and jubilee clips (or, of course, duct tape!).

        So while the first few colonies will indeed be essentially police states/eco-utopias, remember that once it becomes cheap enough to get offworld the freedom the "space cadets" want will quickly follow.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          And don't forget, maintaining space hardware is easy

          so much so that you can happily get ripped to the tits on ganja all the time with no ill-effect

  6. Anonymous Coward

    Let's see...

    Step 1. Find an alternate means to get Space Shuttles, etc into Earth orbit without using rockets to launch stuff. Like Anti-gravity engines.

    Step 2. Make it safer for humans to be in orbit.

    Electro-magnetic shields to stop harmful solar radiation cooking the poor humans.

    Gravity plating for inside the spaceship, space station, etc.

    Step 3. Build a warp engine out of an ICBM and wait for the Vulcans to turn up...

    1. Chemist

      Very reasonable plan

      Let's get the spanners out Gromit !

    2. Robert E A Harvey

      Don't forget

      The Inertial Dampers!

  7. Syren Baran

    "At this point in the process,

    the sci-fi scribe was probably rather more useful than the engineer."

    The icon says it all.

  8. Pete 2 Silver badge

    It just needs a good war

    In peacetime, military projects get bogged down for years. Since there is no immediate need for that new fighter, or submarine, or helicopter the designers tend to let their fantasies run wild: "why don't we give it underwater capabilities?, or the ability to disguise itself as a flock of birds?" or whatever flights of fancy they saw on TV the night before. All this project creep not only increases the cost but also pushes the development time back, too.

    Come a hot war, when there actually is a need for a newer, better gizmo then things move much quicker, since people are actually dying for lack of it. A JFDI attitude comes into play.

    So what I propose is america declares war on some celestial object. It shouldn't be too hard to come up with some sort of threat that (say) Dark Matter or Alpha Centauri poses. Once that is done and all the politicians are busy saluting the flag, some real development can be started. They'll probably need nuclear fusion and some tough new alloys, but since the price of failure would be too high to contemplate, there shouldn't be the need for more motivation - and since we are always told that all you have to do is want something badly enough ...

    Even better, once this thing is assembled and fired off at our new mortal enemy (for you just *know* that the british govt. is going to get in on the act, too - probably saying we could be attacked within 45 minutes) we could even declare victory - that the baddies saw it coming and scarpered back from whence they came, which is why there's no evidence of them any more. However, since eternal vigilance is the price of something or other, we'd better build a whole fleet of these interstellar gizmos, just in case. In fact, now the baddies have seen what we have - we ought to build better ones, for if they do come back they'll have likely as not, an improved gizmo of their own. And we wouldn't want a gizmo gap now, would we?

    Let the interstellar arms race begin.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      aliens provocateur

      We'd probably need to prime the pump by dressing some folks up as aliens and having them invade/nuke the US (think Poland ca 1939). I'd have suggested that they start with the White House but that might actually be counter-productive in terms of a call to arms.

      1. Anonymous Coward

        If they started there first...

        I, for one, thank...

      2. Mike Flugennock
        Thumb Up

        re: aliens provocateur

        Hell, if that's all it'd take, then, shit... I, for one, would welcome our new Halloween-costume-wearing fake alien overlords.

  9. Cunningly Linguistic

    Errrr, that would be...

    ..."to whit".

    Stewie Griffin would be deeply disappointed in you Mr Page.

  10. Anonymous Coward

    US gov says it can't build ROCKETS

    From the latest we've been seeing, they can't even build giant fire-work rockets using solid rocket motors and liquid fuel engines.

    Although to be fair to them doing the work, it's actually the fault of the US gov, not the poeple trying to do it...

    Get me coat for me; it's the one with Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Shuttle, Ares, Jupiter, Orion, Altair patches on the back.

  11. John Smith 19 Gold badge

    Well it *is* what DARPA was formed for.

    *very* high risk, *very* high return gambles.

    Unfortunately the ultimate objective does have to have *some* sort of military application in the near-mid term.

    NB DARPA was where project Orion (interstellar travel by nuclear bombs. A real bang bang machine) wound up.

    Freeman Dyson described what happened next in an article in Science simply called "Death of a project."

    1. Mike Flugennock

      re: what DARPA was formed for...

      John Smith 19 sez on 02.10.11 at 17:51gmt:

      "*very* high risk, *very* high return gambles..."

      ...but mostly just *very* expensive and *very* weird.

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I thought the US

    Was a third world country with a lot of money.

  13. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse Silver badge
    Thumb Up

    Can we call it "the B-Ark"?

    And get rid of the useless third of the populatio....


    1. maclovinz

      You mean the "Tea Party"!??!!!

      And some general Republicans. And some crazy liberals....


      Do it now!

  14. mkz


    1. Cunningly Linguistic

      To whit..

      1. stuartnz

        Ayenbite of Inwyt

        The same freedictionary you link to gives the phrase as "to wit", in its legal dictionary section

        1. Cunningly Linguistic

          The Yanks never could get English right...

          "West's Encyclopedia of American Law"

    2. Loyal Commenter Silver badge


      Is that how it's spelt in the original Klingon then?

  15. Paul McClure

    Fantasy on a budget

    Never mind the US is broke on misadventures and mismanagement lets go to another star.

    We have not explored and occupied any of our solar system save home planet. We seem to be having difficulty keeping a presence in low orbit. Sort of like Erickson's Greenland 400 years before Columbus. Rather than jumping to the next star just because with no reward other than a flag planting video, maybe we could cover the basics that we haven't mastered.

    Suggest we use the business model or government expansion model, without the killing of locals, develop in the neighborhood we know and grow a series of successful products, colonization/mining, until the base is sufficiently large to attempt the big jump and be able to do something with it. Master getting up/down from orbit, processing local materials and generally thrive on newly tilled soil.

  16. Asgard

    Where can I buy a ticket!

    I want off this crazy rock!

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Up

    Glad they're at least thinking about it ...

    ... but i wouldn't mind betting that advances will come more quickly than this from the ambitions of nations which are not suffering from the decline in morale and will that the west seems to have sunk into. My money is on India in collaboration with China.

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Glad they're at least thinking about it ...

      "My money is on India in collaboration with China."

      Then at least the food won't suck.

  18. John Savard

    Not By Taxes?

    An interstellar spaceship, of the kind that takes 400 years to get to Alpha Centauri because it shoots H-bombs out, where they explode and push against a heavy plate with really strong springs behind it...

    is not going to be funded by private donations, not even in 100 years.

    If they actually want to get anywhere, they will have to rely on money confiscated from the hard-working people who earned it themselves through the barbaric institution of taxes. Persons of certain political views may deplore this. And people who are not Libertarians may still oppose it, simply on the grounds that it is a colossal waste of money. This is all well and good.

    But if anyone claims that an interstellar spaceship is, in fact, worthwhile and desirable, then not accepting how it would have to be realized - barring someone inventing really cheap antigravity and FTL drive - is just silly. Or maybe a little hypocritical.

  19. NBCanuck


    "the wealthiest and most powerful organisation yet assembled by the human race – to wit, the US government "

    They have the ability to spend a lot of money, but if you look at their current debt and the way the annual deficit keeps piling it on, the government itself is running like a lot pf people nowadays: behind the 8-ball but keeping things running on credit.

  20. OrsonX
    Thumb Up

    "he died 2 years later"

    He was killed/assassinated 2 years later... [and if you like] and never saw his vision realised.

    I think that scans better. Am I right?

    I will rejoice in your numerous upvotes.

  21. Michael 18

    don't care...

    As long as they call it Weyland-Yutani.

  22. Fr. Ted Crilly Bronze badge
    Paris Hilton

    well then lads...

    Who's for the B-Ark then.

    Paris, do I need to spell it out?

  23. Lars Silver badge

    US gov says it can't build an interstellar starship

    What is wrong with that.

    They cannot pay their current debt nor pay for a proper health care system, so why the hell should they build an interstellar starship in the first place.

  24. asdf

    more merkin bashing

    Granted we probably couldn't get to the moon again today with our inept project management and very numerous greedy heads all in the project trough destroying any project estimate. Still for all the merkin bashing most of those who are doing it countries have done far less in the last fifty years for advancing mans knowledge of things outside our own gravity well. We used to be great at least what the heck have you done lately?

  25. HFoster

    Let me know

    Let me know when they find the last Basestar, and if the Centurions are still online.

  26. bugalugs


    Space Elevators.

    I recall reading many years ago a sci-fi novel about the first space elevator. An entrepreneuring engineer got his expertise subsidised into space, then used cunningly programmed ( or where they manned ? ) ships to harvest silicates from the asteroids and hydro-carbons from comets. These were used to make silicon carbide fibres which were cunningly woven into the elevator shaft. An ablative heat shield of ice made from lunar polar water ( ? ) eased the " land " end of the elevator into a gigantic hole, pre-dug by de Baers or somesuch, back-filling by Caterpillar to complete the process. A breeezy chug-a-lug up *and* down thereafter, etc... Sorry, can't remember title or author.

    Is this almost do-able now ? Fcuk rockets !

    1. Mike Flugennock

      D'ahh, they've been hyping the Space Elevator for years...

      ...but they never seem to have made squat for progress.

      What worries me is: what will Space Elevator Music be like? I don't want to be stuck listening to a Muzak version of the Black-Eyed Peas if I get stuck between floors on the Space Elevator...

  27. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    RE Wanted - bugalugs - 12.59 GMT

    Not sure if this is the book you are referring to but it sounds like Arthur C Clarke's 'The Fountains of Paradise' - it's been many years since I read it though.

  28. Graham Bartlett


    Too many novels with space elevators (since ACC came up with the idea) to mention. Kim Stanley Robinson's let's-break-the-laws-of-physics-for-a-big-setpiece-because-I-can't-write-plots space elevator disaster is probably the one you remember, but there's plenty of others.

    The idea of weight coming down powering weight going back up is neat, although it might not really work. But if you've got a permanent structure then actually a regular power station is all you need. By my sums (which may be wrong!), getting a 1-tonne load to geostationary orbit takes 2e10 joules. A standard 500MW power station generates that in just 40s! The reason rockets are so damn inefficient is that they need lots more fuel to lift the fuel that they need to lift the fuel that they need to (etc....) to lift the fuel that they need to get the payload to orbit.

    Unfortunately there isn't currently anything strong enough to make a practical space elevator out of, or not for Earth at least. The Moon and Mars would be more achievable, since they've got lower gravity. Indeed, having spent years getting to Mars, it'd be downright stupid not to take advantage of the fact that you're already at the top of the gravity well. For Earth, carbon nanotubes are looking like the best bet, but we still can't grow them long enough or strong enough.

  29. Leona A

    What do you mean again?

    We never went to the Moon the first time, everyone knows it was staged! Capricorn 1 anyone.

  30. Anonymous Coward
    Jobs Horns

    What we really need is

    We need proper things that - well like fuck light speed - we need an "idle along in first gear" of "light years per hour"...

    We need a stasis field to shield against all the galactic radiations and impacts with shit like atoms and space dust, rocks and stars... and the odd black hole...

    And we need it NOW.....

    So forget Eienstein and his facts and theories - we need to go into research several magnitude beyond this...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Theories, facts and research

      I understand all the words and what they mean - I just don't think you do !

  31. John 62

    Space travel was your dream to unite mankind

    "Space travel was your dream to unite mankind

    this isn't the same world you left 4 years ago."

    I'm a Farscape hater, but Matt 'Logistics' Gresham used that quote in his seminal work Colour Wheel on his Now more than Ever album.

    The thing about interstellar travel is the lack of communications. Signals will take years to get anywhere. Without FTL communications human life will be separated into islands in the deep ocean. Even if some colonies flourish into New Earths, will we diverge too much to be able to travel between colonies? Then again, what would be different from our current situation of tribes and countries and federations separated by customs and languages and mutual fear, loathing and jealousy.

    This is actually one of the themes of Warhammer 40000. Humanity had colonised the galaxy, but became fragmented and isolated. Some branches had diverged more than others. When The Emperor started his crusade of unifying humanity, some had become too deviant and were put to the sword. But communications and interstellar travel were still difficult and this allowed darkness to prevail in the hearts of men jealous of the Emperor's position. A bloody civil war followed.

    1. HFoster


      More Drum & Bass references in scientific/technical arguments!

  32. rbrtwjohnson
    Thumb Up

    Interstellar Starship Possible

    I believe building an interstellar starship will be plainly possible within few years.

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