Hawking on Board With One of Biggest Space Plans Ever
Idea is to fly to our neighboring star system, 25T miles away
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Apr 12, 2016 3:07 PM CDT
This artist’s impression made available by the European Southern Observatory shows a planet, right, orbiting the star Alpha Centauri B, center.   (AP Photo/ESO, L. Calcada)

(Newser) – Three big names unveiled a space proposal Tuesday so ambitious there's a good chance you wouldn't live long enough to celebrate its success. Assuming it ever gets off the ground. It's called the Breakthrough Starshot, and the idea backed by Stephen Hawking, Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, and Mark Zuckerberg is to explore our nearest star system, reports the New York Times. The Alpha Centauri system is about 25 trillion miles away, and CNET puts that distance of 4.3 light-years in perspective: It would take 30,000 years for our fastest spacecraft to get there. The Starshot team aims to get there in 20 years—though any launch would require about 20 years of research and development first. And then factor in another four years for any information gleaned from the project to return to Earth.

"Earth is a wonderful place, but it might not last forever," says Hawking in an email about the project. "Sooner or later, we must look to the stars. Breakthrough Starshot is a very exciting first step on that journey." They'd pull it off by "thinking very small," explains NPR. The project calls for a fleet of "nanocraft"—chips that could fit in the palm of your hand—to be propelled into space by lasers and sails, much "like a flock of migrating butterflies across the universe," says the Times. Each chip would have cameras and sensors to collect data and send it home. As for the cost, figure between $5 billion and $10 billion, with an initial layout of $100 million from Milner for R&D. He hopes to lure other investors as the plan progresses.