In case you missed it, the boys at DARPA, according to the following article from the New York Times, are at it again, this time funding basic studies for interstellar travel by humans:
Now, something about this article mightily bothers me, and maybe it does you too. Normally, DARPA's Shelleyeque Frankensteinian projects run to the tens of millions, if not hundreds of millions, of increasingly devalued dollars, but here we're told that a study, which could last a full century, and which is to delve into the organizational, sociological, ethical, religious, and not to mention technological problems involved, is going to cost a mere half a million dollars, for a report that one can only imagine will resemble NASA's famous Brookings Institute report of the late 1950s and early 1960s.
There are a couple of lines that tip the hand of what's going on. Consider, first of all, this admission, which coming as it does in The New York Times is a rather curious admission:"People like Dr. Tziolas say the technology already exists or will soon exist to send instruments and perhaps even people to nearby stars, although a human flight could cost hundred of trillions of dollars." Well, we didn't need the New York Times to tell us that, for we are already capable of sending robotic probes beyond the solar system by means of conventional rockets, and indeed, have already done so.
So the revelation of technology here is not really a revelation, unless Dr. Tziolas has something else in mind. Well....possibly, for as anyone who's been following my own or other researchers knows, there are indications that some alternative technology exists. It's not yet Star Trek's "warp drive", but anyone watching the videos of STS 48 will be aware that something exists with some pretty stupendous performance characteristics.
Then there is the "apocalypse motivation", revealed by the lines "But there are plenty of reasons that humans will eventually summon the political will to make the trip, scientists say, if not for human restlessness that has taken us out of the caves and across the oceans, then to escape being wiped out when the killer asteroid appears or the Sun boils the oceans, which it will do in a couple of billion years." Well, we're right back to the Alternative Three scenario with that one, namely, for humanity to survive in the long term, it will have to do so by hightailing it off this planet sooner or later.
The rest of the article outlines various propulsion schemes, and DARPA's real goal in sponsoring such a study: the stimulation of private foundations and enterprise to do the basic conceptual groundwork. Dropping atoms bombs or pellets of deuterium fired by lasers doesn't seem to be much of a solution, since we're still dealing with variants of the Newtonian action-reaction system of chemical rockets.
It is when one recalls the words attributed to Ben Rich, former head of Lockheed's Skunk works, that we already have the technology to take ET home, that gives one pause. In that context, perhaps DARPA isn't really trying to sew the seeds for the acquisition of a new technology, but rather, sewing the seeds for its eventual public revelation. Perhaps, in other words, the technology already exists, and what is needed is the careful social engineering that will create the conditions for its acceptance in the world at large. Given DARPA's history, that wouldn't surprise me at all.