Mat KaplanOct 01, 2013

The "Starship Century" Beckons

Gregory and James Benford return to Planetary Radio

It's my favorite part of this job.  Sure, our guests on Planetary Radio are smart.  Many are among the smartest humans on the planet.  But it's their passion, their dedication to expanding the reach of humanity, that makes them so fascinating.  That's the case once again this week, as Gregory and James Benford return to the show

Last time it was to talk about their "Benford Beacons."  The brothers are still thinking about intelligent civilizations beyond Earth, but now they're considering how to put us humans among those interstellar societies...if others exist.  They have created "Starship Century--Toward the Grandest Horizon," a collection of fact and fiction by the very best thinkers about this subject our species can offer.  It's based on the 2011 100-Year Starship Symposium that attracted so many of the book's contributors.

Stephen Hawking begins with his plea for survival called "Our Only Chance."  It only gets better, with scientific and technological speculation by Freeman Dyson, Martin Rees, Paul Davies, Robert Zubrin and many others.  The fiction comes from Stephen Baxter, David Brin and more, including Gregory Benford himself.

I have to mention one wild concept forwarded by physicist John Cramer.  We had time to describe it in my 90-minute NEXT series webcast with the Benfords, but not on the radio show.  ("NEXT: Science|People|Tomorrow" is the series of live events I host for Southern California Public Radio here in Pasadena.) 

Talk about thinking on the bleeding edge.  Cramer proposes that we first latch onto a wormhole.  (No need to be picky.  Any small Einstein-Rosen Bridge that's handy will do.) Put one end of the wormhole in the Large Hadron Collider.  Spin it up to nearly the speed of light, and fling it out toward a neighboring star system--perhaps good old Alpha Centauri.  The other end stays here.  Information from that star system, in the form of photons, will reach us in a few days, not years.  Cramer also speculates about passing matter through the wormhole just as expeditiously. 

Preposterous?  Impossible?  Perhaps.  But Cramer also proposes this as the possible explanation for unexplained phenomena called Centauro Events

Okay, most of the book is much more, uh, Earthbound in its well-grounded speculation, and it presents many of the biggest challenges we face as we strive to become star trekkers.  But I love its overall sense of optimism.  You can learn more about the book and buy it at  Perhaps best of all, all profit generated by sales will go to starship research.  See you among the stars.

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