Decades ago, humanity set its sights on the moon — and now, thanks to the proposal by a team of scientists and Silicon Valley giants, we may be setting our sights to the distant stars. The project, announced on Tuesday by Russian physicist and entrepreneur Yuri Milner, has been named “Breakthrough Starshot.” Their plan is to launch, at high speed, small probes weighing only one gram from a rocket towards a distant star system that would collect data, such as pictures, and send them back to scientists.
These probes, which by themselves represent a huge stride in nanotechnology, would be controlled by lasers all the way from Earth. Should some be destroyed — which is likely to happen given the objects and debris flying through space — then there would still be many others left.
Their target? The nearest star system, Alpha Centauri, which is 25 trillion miles away from Earth—the nearest system to ours. Alpha Centauri is a multi-star system that contains two stars and one red dwarf as well as planets.
The mission is one for the long-term. It would take up to 20 years to get the project going and another 20 for the probes to reach Alpha Centauri at a speed of 37,000 miles per second — or 1/5 the speed of light. In addition, it would take another four years to get the data home.
Notably, the board of directors includes renowned physicist Stephen Hawking, as well as Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and Milner himself. The mission could require raising up to $10 billion by the time it reaches its end. The team is making a plea for investors to chip in to the project, which is to be worked on by scientists from across the globe. Milner himself has already donated an initial $100 million to the project for early development as proof of concept. Most of the cost would go into development of a powerful set of lasers that would be used to control the probes—both for this project and others.
“I believe what makes us human is transcending our limits,” Stephen Hawking said at the launch of the project.
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