Last September, a few hundred scientists, engineers and space enthusiasts gathered at the Hyatt Hotel in downtown Houston for the second public meeting of 100 Year Starship. The group is run by former astronaut Mae Jemison and funded by DARPA. Its mission is to “make the capability of human travel beyond our solar system to another star a reality within the next 100 years.”
For most of the attendees at the conference, advances in manned space exploration have been frustratingly slow in coming. Despite billions of dollars spent over the last few decades, space agencies aren’t capable of much more than they were in the 1960s. They may be capable of less. 100 Year Starship intends to accelerate the process of interstellar travel by identifying and developing promising technologies.
Over the course of several days, attendees could join symposia on such exotic topics as organ regeneration and organized religion aboard a starship. One of the most anticipated presentations was titled “Warp Field Mechanics 102,” given by Harold “Sonny” White of NASA. A nine-year agency veteran, White runs the advanced propulsion program at Johnson Space Center (JSC), down the road from the Hyatt. Along with five others, he recently co-authored the agency’s 16-year “In-Space Propulsion Systems Roadmap,” which outlines NASA’s goals for the future of space travel. The plan calls for all manner of propulsion projects from improved chemical rockets to far-forward systems like antimatter and nuclear engines. White’s particular area of research is perhaps the most far-forward of them all: warp drive.