The Pentagon’s think tank has selected the group that will manage its "100 Year Starship" project to explore what it would take for a multigenerational mission beyond the solar system, and sources say the leader will be Mae Jemison, who became the first black woman in space in 1992.
In the 20 years since then, Jemison [left] has founded several ventures — including The Jemison Group, a technology design and consulting company; and the Houston-based Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence, which takes on educational projects. Jemison, a 55-year-old Alabama native who has experience as a physician and a Peace Corps worker as well as an astronaut, played a prominent role in facilitating the 100 Year Starship symposium organized by NASA and the Pentagon’s Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency in Florida last fall.
Jemison was the first black woman in space in 1992. NASA File
One of the follow-ups from that seminar was to be the award of a $500,000 contract from DARPA to continue study of the technological, political and social requirements for ultra-long-term projects such as interstellar space missions. Several ventures put in proposals, and one of the groups that didn’t win the contract, the Tau Zero Foundation, said in this week’s email update that the contract was going to a team "led by an ex-astronaut."
DARPA has not yet publicly announced the selection, and my efforts to contact the agency’s representatives have been unsuccessful so far. But after the BBC’s story, the report was confirmed on the Centauri Dreams blog by Paul Gilster, who is affiliated with the Tau Zero Foundation. Gilster said Jemison’s organization "now takes on the challenge of building a program that can last 100 years, and might one day result in a starship."
Adam Crowl, director of Icarus Interstellar, elaborated in a blog comment:
"... Project Icarus will keep running as it has since 2009, and the end point will be an interstellar probe design, chiefly fusion-propelled in the boost phase. That’s due at some point in 2014.
"Icarus Interstellar is a broader banner for a whole group of interstellar related research projects, Project Icarus being just one, which will be producing designs and doing basic research with the common goal of building the technical foundation required for eventual successful interstellar flight.
"Now in light of this news, we’ll be under the banner of the 100 Year Starship Organization, which covers more than just the technical aspects. Each of the triad came to our happy union with different strengths and emphases – Mae Jemison’s organization covering education and broader social goals, the Foundation for Enterprise Development covering innovative organization and operational approaches, and Icarus Interstellar covering the technical aspects. Together we’ll be working towards an organization that will last 100 years and produce a viable interstellar technology, with benefits for all humankind."
The $500,000 DARPA grant is intended to serve as seed money for the 100 Year Starship Organization.
Video: "From April 15, 2010: Former astronaut Mae Jemison tells MSNBC she believes President Barack Obama’s plans for NASA will help the agency move forward. Jemison is to lead the "100 Year Starship" effort."
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