Private Funding of One-Way Space Travel?

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November 1, 2010; Source: AOL News | Remember in “Dr. Strangelove,” as President Muffley, General Turgidson, and others in the Pentagon’s “War Room” contemplate the inevitability of the “doomsday device?” Strangelove reminds the President that many of the nation’s leaders could be moved into deep mine shafts (a ratio of 10 woman for each man) to repopulate until the surface radioactivity ceases, roughly in 100 years.

Truth is stranger than fiction, as news has emerged that NASA is working with an agency of the Department of Defense (the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency) to build a spaceship that could travel to the stars—called “the 100-year starship.” Obviously, the astronauts that would ride this ship would be on a one-way mission to colonize other worlds.

DARPA has put $1m into the project, sparking lots of inquiries as to why the Pentagon is participating in this. Does the Pentagon know something that we don’t? How many people will they put into the starship anyhow? It’s as top-secret at the Russians’ doomsday device and General Jack D. Ripper’s recall codes for the B-52s in Wing Attack Plan R.

One million dollars won’t pay for a 100-year starship, so the head of the NASA project side of the collaboration is looking for private sector support, mentioning the possibility of Google as one source. According to one former NASA scientist, now working at the interstellar space travel nonprofit, the Tau Zero Foundation, he was never allowed to hint at the possibility of soliciting private support for anything associated with NASA projects.

Times have changed, though only a bit. Since the NASA spokesperson leaked information about the project, confirmed by DARPA, everyone has clammed up and no one will talk about what private moneys might be sought to send people into space, never to return. We’re surprised by the idea that NASA has never done this before. In 2006, during the Bush Administration, NASA created Red Planet Capital, a nonprofit venture capital fund “to invest far more money in selected companies than the government could” to support cutting-edge technologies, in this case clearly focused on travel to Mars.

The model for Red Planet Capital was the nonprofit investment capital arm of the Central Intelligence Agency called In-Q-Tel. It looks to us that NASA’s Red Capital nonprofit was shut down in 2008, having existed it appears almost totally on government grants. Is the 100-year starship the Obama administration’s venture into nonprofit fundraising for NASA initiatives? As Vera Lynn sang, “We’ll meet again.”—Rick Cohen