Why We Exist

“… it fulfills a deep and eternal need for something to believe in: something vast and powerful, yet rational and contemporary. Something that makes sense.”

~ Jeff Greenwald (1999, Future Perfect)

 

Jeff’s quote refers to the positive, world-wide impact from the inspiring visions presented in the science fiction show, Star Trek. If fiction can create such a positive effect, imagine the consequences of actually working toward such visions.

 

WHY PURSUE STARFLIGHT NOW?

Interstellar flight is a human journey, even if we never get off this planet.
While the ultimate benefit is the continued survival of humanity, the immediate reason is for creating benefits in the attempt. Pursuing interstellar flight…

 
  • Rekindles hope for a better future, where humanity thrives and opportunities are abundant.
  • Compels humanity to conquer frontiers instead of each other.
  • Drives progress toward revolutionary advancements, not just the next innovation.
  • Provides a dispassionate venue to solve contentious social issues (using context of far-future ‘world ships’), such as population limits, sustainability, governance, life’s purpose, etc.
  • Provides a venue for long-range thinking on profoundly important goals before their solutions appear imminent or before the need is dangerously pending.
  • Gives students career goals that also benefit humanity.

Some consider that it is not time to pursue starflight until after we have colonies on the Moon and Mars; reasonable learning steps.  Lessons from history, however, suggest that it is best to pursue both the next-obvious steps AND the revolutionary advances that could circumvent those near-term actions [Foster 1986, et al]. By evoking the goal of starflight, we are forced to look beyond extrapolations of existing methods, to seek the breakthroughs that could change everything, the breakthroughs that others can’t explore.

The advances on the left represent innovations, improvement in the way things were already being done.  In contrast, the advances on the right represent departures from that norm into new realms – where revolutionary advancements are made.  Each of these types of work are different.  It has been shown that preeminence is NOT sustained if all that is done is mere innovation.  Someone has to stick their neck out into the unknown, and pull those visions into reality.  THAT is what makes a pioneer.  Image compilation: Marc Millis

Imagine how life on Earth would benefit from profound improvements in energy conversion, transportation, sustainable-life-support, long-duration equipment reliability, etc.

Although we have another 500-million years before Earth’s certain demise [Dorminey 2010], Tau Zero’s goal is to develop as much promise for the future as soon as we can. Why wait until it might be too late?  This is about hedging our bets for all the risks – and benefits – along the way. On something as important as the survival of our species, can we really afford to procrastinate?

This is about creating a positive future vision – a future worth striving for.

 

WHY THESE METHODS?

Contrary to popular belief, NASA is not pursuing starflight.  Amidst an occasional effort (Breakthrough Propulsion Project, Precursor Mission designs, etc.), NASA and its aerospace partners are committed almost entirely to near-Earth space. Though exciting new commercial ventures are emerging (Space-X, Virgin-Galactic, Planetary Resources), they, too, are only near space activities.

The changes occurring in space endeavors are matching historic patterns for when a premier organization, in this case NASA, evolves beyond its pioneering foundations.  The emergence of the new commercial ventures and space programs in other countries fit such patterns. History has also shown that now is the time to seek more revolutionary approaches.  This is why Tau Zero is attempting interstellar flight – to drive progress toward revolutionary progress. When it comes to revolutionary work, here is the recurring pattern from history:

Individual level: Pioneers, inspired by the possibilities and having the creativity and competence to make progress, create new knowledge toward solving those grand challenges (e.g., Tsiolkovsky, Oberth, Goddard, von Braun, etc.)

Group level: Those pioneers inspire more people to attempt to implement those visions, and typically volunteer organizations emerge that dabble in those ideas. After cycles of failures and successes, noteworthy progress results (e.g. the first rocketry clubs, American Interplanetary Society, British Interplanetary Society, etc.)

Corporations and Governments: Once a threshold of success has been demonstrated, corporations or governments apply those possibilities to their own interests (e.g., German V2 missiles, American Apollo Moon landing, etc).

While this pattern is not the only way that such things happen, it occurs often enough to suggest this strategy: Find today’s pioneers, support them to accelerate their progress, and then filter out the best prospects.  Once sufficiently viable approaches emerge – invest to bring those approaches to fruition.

Individual pioneers in all those space organizations know that it is important for humanity to make such progress now, and that starflight is an inspirational goal through which to engage the public on how science and technology affects everyone’s life. Pockets of activity are scattered throughout government, academia, and industry, but these are typically small, uncoordinated efforts that face erratic budgets, operational constraints, and the negative stigma of pursuing such outrageous ambitions.

Under these circumstances, the venue of a nonprofit Foundation is a way to start. This Foundation is free of many of the bureaucratic impediments that limit what the larger organizations are allowed to do. We can break from the familiar to seek the breakthroughs that will change everything.

Another compelling condition is affordability. Instead of advocating for huge funding for grand projects (and waiting and waiting…), Tau Zero makes incremental progress now. By forging collaborations amongst those who are already sticking their necks out, we accomplish more.  As progress and resources mount, we can increase progress.  We want to add graduate student projects and eventually research solicitations to our suite of activities.

Scaling up to those additional activities requires your support. On something as important as giving humanity a positive future, shouldn’t we be doing more? With the Tau Zero Foundation, you will be supporting a network of rational visionaries who are willing to tackle the impossible and produce value along the way. And what if the impossible is possible? If so, it is certain to happen sooner than the pessimists believe.

Support us. Help give humanity a future worth striving for. 

Join us 

 

Content Contributors

  • Marc Millis
  • Paul Gilster