Outside the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise, there aren't many serious conversations about warp-speed engines, asteroid mining and exoplanets . . . That is, unless you're at an event sponsored by the 100 Year Starship (100YSS) initiative, a new non-governmental program dedicated to ensuring human travel outside the solar system within a century's time.
At the helm of the ambitious project is physician and former NASA astronaut Dr. Mae Jemison, who joined Mayor Annise Parker at a 100YP press conference Monday morning at the National Center for Behavioral Health in the Texas Medical Center to announce the official launch of the initiative as well as an upcoming public symposium in Houston in September.
Since her 1992 flight on the Endeavor shuttle — a trip that earned her the distinction of being first African-American woman in space — Jemison has become a leader in promoting the scientific and social value of interstellar exploration, work that has lead to the creation of the her non-profit Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence and a 1993 guest spot on Star Trek: The Next Generation.
"With 100YSS we want to show people that the future of space is not just for billionaires," Jemison told CultureMap. "It's part of a vital journey for mankind, one that involves the commitment of everybody."
During her announcement, Jemison posed the question on everyone's mind: Is going to a star even feasible? For help, she turned to H.G. Wells' science fiction novel First Men in the Moon from 1901.
"Back then, can you image how fantastical that idea? Yet, less than 70 years later, we had humans on the moon. . . Today, we have the knowledge to build technology at a much faster pace.
"It's not so fantastical for us to imagine [traveling to a star]. We just have to be committed."
Armed with funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), 100YSS will bring together experts from a wide range of fields, looking to not only those working in the sciences, but also to leaders in economics, the arts and public policy.
"My role as a public figure has allowed me to step up some of the bolder things about the importance of exploring space," Jemison told CultureMap in an interview after her speech. "Sometimes you need to be revolutionary and take on the difficult challenges. Sometimes you need to push beyond what you think you can normally do."
In its first year, 100YSS will concentrate on establishing a membership base and gaining broader financial support throughout the Houston business community and beyond. The program also will create The Way, a research institute focused on speculative and long-term space technology.
The organization's inaugural symposium, which will take place Sept. 13 to 16 at the Hyatt Regency Houston, aims to promote the vision of interstellar space exploration for the general public. Click here for details.
"With 100YSS we want to show people that the future of space is not just for billionaires," Jemison said. "It's part of a vital journey for mankind, one that involves the commitment of everybody."