Ex-astronaut Tapped for DARPA Starship Effort

by

The U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) selected a nonprofit educational foundation headed by former shuttle astronaut Mae Jemison to oversee a nascent human space exploration initiative to travel to another star.

“We can confirm that the Dorothy Jemison Foundation for Excellence has been selected for negotiation for a grant award for the 100 Year Starship effort,” DARPA program manager Paul Eremenko wrote in a statement emailed to Space News. “We have no further comment until the grant is awarded.”

Jemison left NASA in 1993, a year after her single shuttle flight, to form a technology applications company. She set up the nonprofit Dorothy Jemison educational foundation with her brother and sister to honor their late mother, a long-time Chicago Public Schools educator.

The DARPA contract, expected to be worth $500,000, is intended to serve as seed funds to develop the technical, political and financial frameworks to support a human mission to another star system. The goal of the 100 Year Starship, or 100YSS, project is to cut travel time to another star to a century or less.

Using today’s technology, it would take 100,000 years to reach Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system.

In its solicitation, DARPA wrote that 100YSS aims to “develop a viable and sustainable non-governmental organization for persistent, long-term, private-sector investment into the myriad of disciplines needed to make long-distance space travel viable.”

“The goal is to develop an investment vehicle — with the patronage and guidance of entrepreneurs, business leaders, and technology visionaries — which provides the stability for sustained investment over a century-long time horizon, concomitant with the agility to respond to the accelerating pace of technological, social, and other change,” DARPA wrote.

Jemison’s partners in the project include Icarus Interstellar and the Foundation for Enterprise Development.