Former president Bill Clinton has lent his support to the 100-Year Starship initiative, a project started by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA ) to research interstellar travel.
While humanity has sent spacecraft throughout the solar system, traveling to another star is a whole different ballgame. The distances involved are significantly greater, and so are the attendant technological challenges.
"This important effort helps advance the knowledge and technologies required to explore space, all while generating the necessary tools that enhance our quality of life on earth," President Clinton said in a statement.
The issues associated with interstellar travel will be discussed at the upcoming 100-Year Starship Public Symposium, an event open to scientists and interested members of the public, from Sept. 13 through Sept. 16 in Houston.
"The 100YSS 2012 Public Symposium will bring together influential thought, scientific and cultural leaders to explore the technologies, science, social structures and strategies needed to make capabilities for human travel to another star system a reality within the next century," officials said in a statement.
Interstellar travel will be necessary if humanity ever hopes to visit another habitable world. More than 800 planets have been discovered beyond our solar system, with some of them potentially hospitable to life.
Speakers at the public event will include symposium chair Mae Jemison, the first female African American astronaut, as well as Star Trek actor LeVar Burton, astronomer Jill Tarter, a co-founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, and other notable thinkers.
Jemison also leads the 100-Year Starship organization, an independent, non-governmental organization that was founded this year using seed money from DARPA.
Visit SPACE.com next week for complete coverage of the 100YSS Public Symposium.
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Clara Moskowitz is a science and space writer who joined the Space.com team in 2008 and served as Assistant Managing Editor from 2011 to 2013. Clara has a bachelor's degree in astronomy and physics from Wesleyan University, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. She covers everything from astronomy to human spaceflight and once aced a NASTAR suborbital spaceflight training program for space missions. Clara is currently Associate Editor of Scientific American. To see her latest project is, follow Clara on Twitter.