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100 Year Starship Symposium Kicks Off to Ponder Interstellar Travel

Icarus Pathfinder
A potential spacecraft called Icarus Pathfinder would be powered by electromagnetic VASIMR (Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket) engines, taking it out to 1,000 times the distance from Earth to the sun. (Image credit: Adrian Mann)

HOUSTON — Celebrities, scientists, artists and astronauts are converging here today (Sept. 13) to discuss what it will take to send a spaceship to another star.

The second annual 100 Year Starship Symposium is kicking off, under the auspices of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), to ponder the technology, psychology, sociology, and economics of interstellar spaceflight.

Notable attendees include actors Nichelle Nichols and LeVar Burton, who appeared on television's "Star Trek" and "Star Trek: The Next Generation," respectively; space journalist Miles O'Brien; alien-hunting astronomer Jill Tarter, a co-founder of the SETI (Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence) Institute; and Johnnetta Cole, director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art. Former President Bill Clinton is backing the conference as its honorary chair, and the symposium chair is former astronaut Mae Jemison, the first African American woman to travel to space.

The meeting will run from Sept. 13 through 16, and will feature scientific presentations on the propulsion and other technologies that might be needed to send a probe to another star, as well as discussions of the social ramifications of becoming an interstellar civilization, and the biological consequences for humans traveling on multi-generation starships.

A special event will explore how art and fiction push the boundaries of science, while another will honor the 50 years of human spaceflight activities based out of NASA's Johnson Space Center here, and the anniversary of President John. F. Kennedy's speech charging the nation to send men to the moon.

The conference is being held at the Hyatt Regency Houston, and is open to the public.

Visit this week for complete coverage of the 100YSS Public Symposium.

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Clara Moskowitz
Clara has been's Assistant Managing Editor since 2011, and has been writing for and LiveScience since 2008. 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. To find out what her latest project is, you can follow Clara on Google+.