Will Humans Ever Build Starships?
“Will we ever live amongst the stars?”
This is Rachel Armstrong’s big question — and one she’s determined to answer. A professor of experimental architecture at Newcastle University in the UK, Armstrong has been thinking about zero-g construction for her whole career and especially since joining Icarus Interstellar, an international project designed to promote and facilitate interstellar flight in the 21st century. “It has to do with going beyond our limits and being more than what we are right now,” she says. “The starship question really is about the nature of humanity. And that’s different from asking whether we can build a starship.”
The can or cannot is subject to change, but the would or would not is a product of humanity itself — our reasoning, our priorities. The context of the starship question is population growth, environmental deterioration, scientific research, and the impulse to explore. Compared to all that, defining the subject of inquiry is easy: A starship, according to Armstrong, is a vessel that can be used to transport organic life to worlds beyond our solar system. There are two major characteristics that separate a starship from other kinds of spacecraft: The ability to sustain life onboard for a lengthy amount of time and the ability to carry that life over to other moons and planets.
Life in space is a thing we can do. That’s what the ISS offers. What the ISS can’t do is move over galactic distances. Propulsion is, when it comes to starships, the rub. Scientists estimate that in order to get to another star system within 100 years, a spacecraft would have to be traveling at about 10 percent the speed of light. Without a warp drive, things are tricky.
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