Is it possible that Star Trek and a sci-fi story written by Jules Verne more than 100 years ago will inspire the next generation of space technologies? DARPA, the research and development division of the US military, sure hopes so. In fact, the agency has promised to award $500,000 this fall to the group that has the best plan to make interstellar travel a reality within 100 years, reports the LA Times. To get the ideas flowing, DARPA will host a symposium featuring all manner of space aficionados, from astrophysicists to sci-fi writers, in Florida next month.
Though bringing to life the Starship Enterprise is a tantalizing fantasy, DARPA's 100-Year Starship Study has a broader aim—creating products. "'Products' doesn't mean physical products, but might be a new computer algorithm, a new kind of physics, a new set of mathematics, a new philosophical or religious construct," a DARPA official tells the newspaper. Still, the motivating effects of make-believe cannot be underestimated. "What Jules Verne postulated in terms of a cannon firing people to the moon is about as impractical and unrealistic as you could get, but he inspired people to think about building space vehicles." A century later, they were a reality. "That's the motivation of the 100-Year Starship Study."