back to article DARPA, NASA look to spawn STARSHIP enterprise

More details have emerged on the US government's plan to build a spacecraft capable of "a journey between the stars". Astoundingly, it is expected that this can be achieved with no more than "several hundred thousand dollars" of government funding. This is because the idea is that the starship will not, in fact, be built or …


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  1. Mystic Megabyte

    Reasons not to bother

    What direction do you steer for?

    What happens if you do find another planet and find that there is already a civilisation there?

    You find an empty planet and colonise it only for it to hit with a giant asteroid or solar flare, the chances are the same as it happening here.

    Unless you send several thousand people they would become inbred morons after a short time.

    Stop dreaming and spend the money on solving the problems here on Earth.

    1. serviceWithASmile

      spend the money?

      you mean a few hundred k?

      did you read the article?

      chances of solar flares / comets wiping out a planet must be different for each planet.

      so are you saying that having an egg in a basket is safer than having 2 baskets with eggs?

      all this aside I really do despair when I hear the "charity begins at home" argument, and even more so when it appears the arguer is of the opinion that money is the be-all and end-all. It's not, infact most of it doesn't even exist other than as a number in a system somewhere.

      Most of the problems here are caused by money, so why would more of it solve them?

      putting a ship in the orbit of another star is probably the best idea i've heard all week. if we keep finding excuses not to, and earth gets wiped out by a comet, i reserve the right to say "i told you so".

    2. Semaj

      Live under your bridge forever

      1 - Nearest star with likely habitable planets

      2 - Enslave them

      3 - Simple probability that even I can understand - we'd be hedging our bets if we had 2 planets to live on. The more planets the more likely we are to survive

      4 - No need for several thousand as inbreeding isn't as instantly destructive as it's seen to be (look at other creatures in the animal kingdom to see this). Obviously more (and fitter) would be better though.

      5 - You can spend your money on Earth if you want but those of us who can see a future where the descendants of thee pioneers are as gods to those of the plebs who stayed would not begrudge a penny. In fact I would much rather all our aid money went into this kind of venture than to Pakistan.

      Troll icon because I expect you probably are one.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        The title is required, and must contain letters and/or digits.

        Actually, humans are already pretty genetically uniform.

    3. Z 1
      Thumb Down

      There's merit in the saying

      Don't put all your eggs in one basket...

    4. CaptainHook

      multiple planets

      "You find an empty planet and colonise it only for it to hit with a giant asteroid or solar flare, the chances are the same as it happening here."

      I think the point is, an Asteroid hit this planet is long odds, but catastophic if it does happen. Asteroids hitting 2 seperate planets we occupy is incredibly bad luck.

      3 seperate planets all being disrupted by 3 seperate events by enough to collapse civilisation is the sort of odds which would make me question if God does actually exist, but he hates us.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        On the other hand...

        If we have twice as many planets there's double the chance that one of them will get hit by an asteroid...

      2. Veldan

        why multiple planets?

        I do find it strange everyone wants multiple planets.

        Ships big enough to sustain life for the years it would take to make it to other stars would in fact be big enough and good enough to be colonies themselves.

        Why colonize the planets when space is so much bigger and easier to move around in? Added benefit of parking in an asteroid belt and mining it.

        Also being hit my asteroids becomes much less of a concern when you can dodge them.

        Just a thought...

    5. Willington

      @Mystic Megabyte

      As population is one of the biggest problems we face and it is the elephant in the room that nobody will discuss (because population control doesn't really win a lot of votes, especially among Catholics) then it would seem to me that these people are spending money on solving problems here on Earth.

      The Sun will die in 5 billion years, the Earth in less time than that. If we don't spend some money now then we'll have less time than we do already to solve this issue and before you know it the end of the world will be a week on Tuesday and we'll still be stuck here.

      I'm not a dreamer, I'm a realist with children who I hope will have children who I hope will have children who...

    6. hplasm

      If that is your solution

      Then you are certainly part of the problem.

    7. Jonathon Green

      Title? We don' need no steenkin' title!

      Mystic Megabyte: "What happens if you do find another planet and find that there is already a civilisation there?"

      Then you've justified every last dollar, every last drop of sweat, and every last life that the project cost - seriously, what better justification could there possibly be?

    8. TakeTheSkyRoad

      Re : Reasons not to bother

      For a start I'm pretty certain that any exploration project would have a definate direction. There are projects happening now looking for habitable planets around other stars.

      Obviously you would rather everyone just sat where they were, interestingly if that had happened throughout human history then we would have got nowhere and we'd still be sat in africa or something. Same does for the example of european explorers finding the american contient. They set off with no idea what they would find or how long it would take.

      You know what, I was going to say more but what's the point ?

      I'm just going to down vote you as troll instead

      1. Red Bren
        Paris Hilton

        The Willington Dynasty

        "As population is one of the biggest problems we face..."

        "I'm a realist with children who I hope will have children "

        You're not really helping, are you! :-)

      2. Tom 13

        Actually, the early European explorers had some rather definite plans in mind.

        They were seeking a trade route to Asia that wasn't controlled by Spain or Portugal. But that actually makes the case even stronger. What they found on their journey was completely unexpected. Same thing could happen as we explore space.

    9. Shadowthrone

      Large crew not a major necessity.

      There would not be the need for a massive initial crew to avoid the genetic inbreeding you refer to. Instead, you could ship out frozen sperm and ova and use IVF methods to implate fertilised ova into willing female surrogates. The only moral quandry with this, is that the female population of the initial colony seed would be essentially reduced to "baby factories" for the first dozen or so generations while the population is brought up to a diverse enough and sustainable level.

      Unlike in Sci-fi settings, we lack the technology to have truely artificial wombs inwhich we can gestate fertilised ova.

      1. ravenviz Silver badge

        Re: baby factories

        Can't they gestate in a box?

    10. BristolBachelor Gold badge

      already a civilisation there?

      "What happens if you do find another planet and find that there is already a civilisation there?"

      I believe that we have a precedent already for that. We kill all of them that we can, take all their stuff and call it ours. (Sadly it's not really a joke)

      1. chr0m4t1c


        So you think they'll have oil, then?

    11. Ken 16

      yes, spend the money here on Earth

      don't give it to those aliens!

      or to answer more seriously;

      onwards and upwards

      say hello

      try again

      lots of ships, lots of people

  2. Joey

    Job going?

    I have, in the past, written science fiction and would like to offer my services as CEO of this organisation.

    1. There's a bee in my bot net


      Put me down for any C*O position going spare!

  3. Bernard M. Orwell

    Which Direction?

    Second star to the right, and straight on till morning, clearly.

  4. Rich 11 Silver badge

    Reasons not to bother

    > Stop dreaming and spend the money on solving the problems here on Earth.

    This is one of the problems here on Earth!

  5. NumptyScrub

    Reasons to bother

    *double your resources for each planet you successfully colonise

    *allows far more physical seperation of conflicting ideologies

    *allows for a massive depopulation of earth, and the resultant release of pressure on terrestrial ecological and environmental systems

    *allows for the creation of new ideology-based states, and therefore the diminishing of the earth-based adherents of those ideologies

    Or in normal words, someone creates the "United Planet of <insert demographic here>" on a newly populated planet, and we almost immediately lose all of the <insert members of that demographic here> on Earth as they fight each other for places on the next starship there.

    You could even chip in to fund a colonisation effort for the demographic you hate the most, to get them off your planet sooner. How is this not a win-win situation for both you, and the demographic(s) you detest?

    1. Torben Mogensen

      No solution for overpopulation

      NumptyScrub writes: "allows for a massive depopulation of earth, and the resultant release of pressure on terrestrial ecological and environmental systems".

      I don't see this. Even with hugely optimistic technology, the resources required to send a person to another star system is far higher than the resources required for said person to live a life of luxury on Earth. Besides, even if we could ship out several millions of people each year to other star systems, more humans would be born to fill the gap.

      The only solution for overpopulation is population control through strong policies against having more than 1-2 children per couple. This can be by law (as in China) or by economic incentives (as in, e.g., Japan and Western Europe). Or it can be through killing off the surplus, but that is hardly politically correct. But if nothing is done to lower the global birth rate drastically, this will inevitably happen either through wars over living space or massive famine.

      This, however, doesn't mean that interstellar travel is pointless. As others have pointed out, it can reduce the risk of extinction. It can also increase knowledge, create spin-off technologies and improve morale on Earth.

      1. Red Bren

        Cause of overpopulation

        Speaking as a parent, it's not people having too many kids, its people failing to die quickly after breeding... oh, hang on...

      2. Joe Cooper

        War and overpop

        War is a brutally stupid way to deal with overpopulation as the biggest we've had in history not only hardly put a dent in it, but also spawned new technology that allowed even faster growth. And it's already EASILY bad enough to make you ask "what's so bad about overpopulation anyway?"

        I mean serious, what sort of flat out fucking retard would think the wars are really the better option for anyone, let alone the environment? You realize a pop-cleansing war warrants nukes, right? A lot?

        Plus you'd just be flattening the city people and the brains of society, leaving everything in the hands of rural farmer bible beater types.

        Besides, we see in every developing country that as it develops pop levels off pretty much automatically. We're now contending with inverse demographics, risk of workforce shortage, tossing or scaling back the social institution of retirement...

        Lastly, China sucks, and it's always a red flag when someone points at China as someone to emulate.

    2. sisk

      Great idea

      I'm going to start fundraising now to start a United Planet of Politicians, or maybe a United Planet of Conservatives and a United Planet of Liberals would work better.

  6. Vision Aforethought

    Remember the tag 'polomarco'

    That's all! ;)

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @Reasons to bother

    Missed the most compelling reason .... Ark B!

    1. Anonymous Coward

      Provided that...

      we retain at least one telephone sanitiser.

      Alternatively we could pile all of the "Ark-A" types on instead and aim it towards the sun.

  8. b166er

    Tit le

    How to fund this? Simple, the money's already there.

    Pitch it as the search for God, donations welcome.

    Remember, all those who donate are guaranteed a journey to the heavens.


    1. James Hughes 1

      You need to read

      A book called "The Sparrow" by Mary Doria Russell.

  9. rurwin
    Thumb Down

    No solution to population

    The Earth's population is growing at about 200,000 per day. Do you think we could build spacecraft fast enough?

    1. Veldan

      Sure we can

      Just need to stop spending money on feeding those people. Start building those ships instead!

  10. rurwin

    Interesting economics

    Where does the money come from? Assuming that the private company gets enough funds, then they will be richer than entire countries and on a par with the biggest. Being the CEO would be a nice sinecure.

    Assuming that economics is zero-sum (it isn't), then we would all have to get significantly poorer for this company to be able to gather together such a large amount of cash.

    Alternatively, if the existence of this company magically created money, then we would all be significantly richer, so why don't governments fund it?

    Since it is pretty obvious now that government will not invest serious money in space exploration for the foreseeable future, this is a good idea.

    Unfortunately, there is no upside to interstellar travel for commercial companies either. The payback period is just too long. If this gets any finance it will be from private individuals who expect to be passengers. Otherwise it will only attract throw-away marketing money.

    I just don't see what a few hundred thousand government dollars is going to do to get it started. It's probably worth ignoring that much money just to keep DARPA and the US Government from looking over your shoulder.

  11. Dave Bennett

    Population smopulation

    It seems some of us do not understand the exponential nature of population growth. If we ship off 200,000 people, yes that number will simply be born tomorrow... but those 200,000 we just lost would likely have had children, who may in turn have children, who also might have... and so on.

    Not so sure on the idea of splitting planets by ideology, I expect that would just spell interstellar war. Plus, once we are all of the same ideology, we'd just argue about something else.

    I believe that we should host a new version of 'Big Brother' and tell the contestants they are off to colonise Mars. Then as we fly low over the red planet, we simply jettison them out the airlocks.

  12. Alan Brown Silver badge

    Baby factories

    At least one calf has been sucessfully gestated in a laboratory tank and then lived a happy life after "birth"

    I believe the reason it hasn't been done with humans has more to do with "ethics" than with "technological ability"

    1. Chemist

      Have you a reference ...

      for this ?

  13. Christoph
    Paris Hilton

    So has El Reg's team entered?

    Have you started drawing up the plans for the paper starship?

  14. John Savard Silver badge

    Hugo Gernsback

    That was an amusing choice of a term for science fiction - scientifiction being used by Hugo Gernsback in the earliest days.

    While I think that sending humanity to the stars is something that should someday happen, it is not clear to me how anything could be started now that could usefully build towards it. A colony on Mars or among the asteroids would be a major step for humanity that, once taken, would be likely to set it on a path that would lead to the stars.

  15. Uncle Slacky Silver badge

    Shame they shut down the NASA BPP project then...

    It was already funding the kind of research needed:

    There's still the Tau Zero Foundation, though, run by some of the same people:

  16. VeganVegan

    We will study war no more!

    The money is already there: add up the "defense" budget of the nations on Earth.

    Sadly, the likelihood of defense money being freed up is rather low. However, that the European countries are no longer likely to be at each others' throats is a good sign.

  17. rurwin

    Re: Population smopulation

    "If we ship off 200,000 people, yes that number will simply be born tomorrow... but those 200,000 we just lost would likely have had children, who may in turn have children, who also might have... and so on."

    Well yes, but that is the population growth, not the birth rate.

    To keep the population constant, you have to ship out 200,000 people every day for the rest of time. If you only ship out 200,000 then you have postponed the collapse of civilization by exactly 24 hours. Of course if you manage to ship out, say, 400,000 people every day, then the population will actually start to shrink and you will eventually be able to stop for a while.

    Removing any fixed number from an exponential growth only delays the increase by a fixed period. It never solves the problem. If you decimated the population back to Adam and Eve, with a 1.14% per annum population growth they would eventually get back to 6.5 billion. In this case, if you could ship out 200,000 people, then you would delay the growth by one day. 400,000 would give you two days, and so forth. In order to make a dent in that 200,000 per day rate of increase, you would have to remove 600,000,000. Then the rate of increase would drop to 180,000 per day.

    1. ~mico

      Not quite...

      >To keep the population constant, you have to ship out 200,000 people every day for the rest of time.

      This is plainly not true, since people are mortal. In fact, shipping off 200,000 people every day for just a few years (maybe two decades?) may cause total population collapse - if you ship the right people out. For example, every person whose eighteenth birthday is on that day. After just 20 years, you will have no people aged 18-38 on Earth, i.e. no people in child bearing age range. This will bring population growth to a full stop. To totally "weed out" Earth of people, one could continue shipping for some 20 more years.

    2. Captain DaFt

      Humanity and Earth are different things

      OK, shipping off a few hundred thousand people would do little to help Earth's overpopulation, but it WOULD give humanity a fresh start on each new world populated.

      So, not much good for those that stay, but very good for the thousands that leave and successfully colonize elsewhere.

      (As for the inevitable failures, sucks to be them!)

    3. Shonko Kid

      It depends on how you choose the 200,000

      While your math may be good, your lateral thinking is off.

      What if we only ship out women who are just about to go into labour. I think you'll agree that will make a dent in the exponential growth

  18. GeorgeTuk

    Sounds like pyramid selling!

    Giving money to an idea that will never happen.

  19. Anonymous Coward

    a truely long view? from politicians?

    we can't even get our political animals to do their jobs for two years before they start campaigning-and even then they can't seem to remember what they said or promised the year before even when reminded by video recordings.

    We can't get our government today to keep it's hands off of any money that's available. Whether it's government managed like Social Security, or the "general funds" from lotteries that were sold as a means to fund "education", to the money in citizens' pockets and bank accounts which is considered to belong to the government except for whatever they decide we should be allowed.

    Government and the human sub-species known as "the politician" prevent such a plan from working.

  20. Anonymous Coward


    "....this mighty organisation, whose structure and methods remain unknown as yet."

    Actually, we already know the structure and methods:

    A global socialist-based government (or entity in this case), in a time when humanity has outgrown our petty differences and wants and has joined up as a race for self-enlightenment rather than personal financial gain.

    Perhaps DARPA should start here:

    /AC since some might not catch the joke as its coming from a non-trekkie

  21. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Sci-fi Wet Dreams

    Oy, the lameness. You people have been reading way too much Heinlein, and agreeing uncritically with too much of what you read.

    It's not like a pregnant woman is completely useless for 9 months(!) They will be "baby factories" while also being scientists, engineers, architects, doctors, factory workers, farmers, teachers, and soldiers. Same goes for the men, 'cept perhaps for the baby factory part. Just like here on planet Earth. Maybe we'll send an all-woman crew of scientists, engineers, etc., and a few dumb, hot men to pleasure them (plus a supply of easily-stored genius sperm). Won't that disappoint the pimply male nerds running this discussion. Maybe a crew consisting of a few teachers and a whole bunch of (small, light) children.

    A fundamental mistake made in this whole analysis is the pre-supposition that it will be hugely expensive to travel to the stars. Surely the challenges are daunting; learn to live indefinitely in an isolated environment; build a structure in space capable of sustaining a couple hundred people; discover a power source capable of accelerating the structure to relativistic velocities.


    That's just one approach. Maybe not even the best one. Another is to build an automated womb and a teaching machine, and fly that smaller structure to the stars, perhaps more slowly. There are yet other approaches. Depends what we get good at first.


    500 years ago we didn't even know how to get 100 men across a warm, familiar ocean of water with perfectly breathable air above it, and sustain them at their destination. Now anyone can buy a ticket across the ocean for a few days' wages. 50 years ago we didn't know how to get 2 men on the moon and sustain them for 3 days. 10 years later we did it, but it cost 10 billion dollars. This year a little company with less than 1000 employees is replicating the bulk of that accomplishment, and less wealthy governments have their eyes on the moon.

    If we've learned anything from the space race, it's this. It's only expensive if we have to brute-force it, and pay every cent of the development cost. If we build incrementally, the cost of funding the actual expedition may be quite reasonable. One day some guy in the successor organization to DARPA will say, "Hey look, if we put technologies A, B, and C together, we've got most of what we need for a starship." and funding will be available for mankind's greatest adventure *ever*.

    Maybe we're asking the wrong question. Maybe we need to be asking, "How can we get to the stars for a price we can afford? What things might make the voyage less expensive, and how can we encourage the development of these things?"

    This is less fun that vast multigeneration torch-ships. It's the dream of professional engineers, not the mental masturbation of some teenage boy occupying the body of a nominal adult. It's the dream that will get us there.


    Science Fiction has explored all the possibilities I've listed here for getting to the stars, and numerous others. We can't let our imagination be as constrained as Heinlein's was. And our attitudes about women need to live in the 21'st century, not stuck in the 50's with Heinlein.

  22. Ooo-wait-BUT!

    several hundred thousand dollars of government funding...

    ... will likely cover the cost of maintaining the "copywrite". The remainder presumably, is to be raised with a new round of pyramid selling.

    Way to go, America !

    Always thinking with your pockets.

  23. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The appropriate novel is "Boat of a Million Years"

    So we have a bit of development before we're ready.

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