Private space exploration, part II. My evil twin Ed West has drawn my attention to the coolest, geekiest idea I have almost ever heard of: an initiative to build a full-scale, working [sort of: more on that later], Starship Enterprise.
The people behind buildtheenterprise.org claim (and I have no easy way of checking their facts, so I won’t bother) that we have the technology to build it, and that it would take about 20 years and $1 trillion (£633 billion or thereabouts). That’s a lot of money, and a long time, but if it’s plausible I really, really hope we go for it. This is the project for which Kickstarter was born.
I said that it wasn’t quite “working”, and this is what I mean: it doesn’t have a warp drive, so unless the crew have a spare millennium or so it won’t be taking them to Alpha Centauri. “But surely a warp drive is pretty important for a starship?” ask some boring naysayers on Twitter. Well, yes, but that rather implies that we’ve already explored this solar system adequately. Hands up everyone who’s gone to Venus. Anyone? Right. Come back when we’ve had a proper look at Europa and we’ll start worrying about faster-than-light stuff then. For now, we have the technology to run ion drives, and (again, I’m taking this from the buildthenterprise.org) they reckon it could make a trip to Mars in 90 days.
Also: “we could be spending the money on something more worthwhile”, say other, equally boring, people. Could we? Like what? The buildtheenterprise.org team suggest that the USA dedicate 0.27 per cent of its GDP, or 1.1 per cent of federal funding, to the project: about $40 billion in 2012. That’s less than half of the rate of federal spending on Nasa at the height of the space race. But I think this has it backwards. First, it should be global, not just American: an international project. Second, it should be partly privately funded. I actually wasn’t kidding about Kickstarter, or something like it. Get companies involved. Make it the Reebok-Google Enterprise or something. Small-scale donations would go a long way: something like £3 a year per person worldwide would actually cover it (although of course for many people that’s an awful lot of money).
I know it will never happen, in my secret, jaded heart. But it’s a brilliant idea. It’s exciting, and futuristic, and has the potential to inspire generations like nothing else the space programme has done since the Moon landings. And we can actually start to explore a tiny bit more of the universe properly. I honestly can’t think of a better use of a trillion dollars.
And I’m not even a Star Trek fan.