“Why do we pay this obsessive attention to backing up a document, which we can reproduce, when we pay no attention to backing up our civilization?” — Andreas Tziolas.
Ross Andersen: Project Icarus, which will focus on the mission’s technological challenges, is a theoretical engineering study that was launched in 2009 by the British Interplanetary Society with the purpose of designing an interstellar spacecraft. It brings together an international group of volunteer aerospace engineers from government space agencies, universities and the private sector with the purpose of generating technical reports on the engineering layout, functionality, physics, operation, and mission profile of an interstellar probe. You can think of it as a kind of repository for bleeding-edge thinking about interstellar travel.
Project Icarus takes its inspiration from Project Daedalus, a five-year study launched by the British Interplanetary Society in 1973 to determine whether interstellar travel was feasible at all. Project Daedalus ultimately concluded that interstellar was possible, but acknowledged that the technical challenges were significant. Icarus aims to pick up where Daedalus left off, by trying to chip away at some of those technical challenges. Andreas Tziolas, a former research fellow at NASA who holds a Ph.D. in Gravitation and Cosmology, is the Project Leader for Project Icarus. Yesterday I spoke to Tziolas about how and, more interestingly, why we might someday send a mission to the stars.