History

“It always seems impossible until its done.”

~ Nelson Mandela

 

HISTORY OF THE TAU ZERO FOUNDATION

In 1993, a father and son team, Ed and Jon Hujsak, tracked down the leading researchers on advanced space propulsion and together they founded the “Interstellar Propulsion Society.” Some of its 15 advisors included Robert Forward, Greg Matloff, Tony Martin, Geoff Landis, Bob Zubrin, and Marc Millis. With the Internet and digital libraries emerging as tools to facilitate collaboration, this grass-roots society aimed to “accelerate scientific and engineering advancement in space propulsion, leading to manned missions to other star system at fractional light speeds, relativistic velocities and beyond.”

But this society was short-lived. Right after publishing its first newsletter in July, 1995, NASA began sponsoring its own interstellar work; the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics Project , led by Marc Millis (NASA GRC), the Advanced Space Transportation Research Program , led by John Cole (NASA MSFC), and studies that led to numerous nearer-term concepts such as the Interstellar Precursor Mission, proposed by R. Wewaldt and P. Liewer (Caltech and NASA JPL). It seemed that the need for the grass-roots society had been supplanted with funded government research. The society’s founders and advisors let their Interstellar Propulsion Society fade away.

About 7 years later, however, these visionary NASA activities also ended. Quoting from the from the 2003 Budget of the United States (p. 325) , in a section about the damaging effects of Congressional earmarks: “Finally, the Congress earmarked funds for a low priority propulsion lab by cutting the very research the lab it is meant to support” (sic).

Just prior to the NASA cuts, Marc Millis (whose first work on these topics was published in 1990) began to shift the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics work to a Consortium of government, industry and academia. From managing what is arguably the most visionary NASA project, Millis learned that such edgy research needs more rounded participation. Although the funding cuts halted this transformation, the idea that such visionary research should resume and include facets beyond what the government could address was clear. Millis’s brief experiences with Walter De Brouwer’s Starlab in 2001 also gave him new insights into entrepreneurial adventures.

In 2003 and with NASA’s support, Millis returned to school to pursue a Masters in “Physics Entrepreneurship” at the Case Western Reserve University. As a school project Millis wrote a business plan for an “Interstellar Flight Foundation” that one of his management consultants took seriously enough to incorporate in 2004, before Millis secured NASA’s permission to work this Foundation on his own time. After Millis secured NASA’s permission and the management consultant went his separate way, Millis and his collaborators forged ahead. In 2006 Millis completed his masters with his thesis being the implementation plan for the “Tau Zero Foundation” which aims to accelerate progress toward practical interstellar flight. Shortly thereafter, he began working with Paul Gilster, whose book Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning for Interstellar Flight had just been published. The two began a collaboration that saw Gilster’s Centauri Dreams website emerge as the online presence of the emerging foundation.

Concurrently with these efforts, Millis and his cohorts realized the need for a guiding book on the topic of Breakthrough Propulsion Physics, but one that extended beyond the NASA work. Over the next few years, a team of roughly 25 authors was assembled by Millis and his co-editor, Eric Davis, to produce the first-ever scholarly publication on the notions of propellant-less space drives, gravity control, and faster-than-light flight. In 2009, this book, Frontiers of Propulsion Science, was published by the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics (AIAA).

In February, 2010, Millis took an early retirement from NASA to devote more time to Tau Zero, to advance it from just a volunteer network with passive donations into a self-supporting nonprofit organization that could actively pursue philanthropic donations and revenue generating activities to boost progress. Tau Zero was at this time working with the British Interplanetary Society as an effort began to update the Project Daedalus starship design created by the Society in the 1970s. That effort would become Project Icarus, now under active development in the hands of Icarus Interstellar.


In October, 2010, Millis learned about the DARPA–NASA-Ames initiative for the 100-year Starship. Realizing the similarity between this new effort and Tau Zero, Millis investigated. In addition to participating in their January 2011, kick-off workshop and their fall 2011 symposium, Millis made a proposal in response to the DARPA solicitation for the seed money to start such an organization. Millis and Tau Zero did not win that solicitation. Instead it went to ex-Astronaut Mae Jemison, teaming with Icarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development. 

Also in 2010, Millis forged a working relationship with the Ohio Aerospace University to enable graduate student projects. This additional service is still under construction.

 

Content Contributors

  • Marc Millis
  • Paul Gilster