Summer 2009 Issue

Dr. SETI’s Starship

The Bet is Already Won

By Dr. H. Paul Shuch, N6TX

In our last column in the Spring 2009 issue of CQ VHF, we introduced Long Bets (<>), the Arena for Accountable Predictions, a web-based wagering facility launched by the futures-oriented Long Now Foundation. The purpose of Long Bets is to improve long-term thinking. You may recall that Long Bets is a public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake. As mentioned in that column, I am a party to one of those bets—and so, it turns out, are a couple of my colleagues.

Their wager is intriguing. It was proposed by Tibor Pacher, who runs the Peregrinus Interstellar website, and the challenge was accepted by Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams. Since both parties to the wager are friends of The SETI League, I felt compelled to follow the debate closely.

The bet in question, as posted by Pacher, reads: “The first true interstellar mission, targeted at the star closest to the sun or even farther, will be launched before or on December 6, 2025 and will be widely supported by the public.”

The conditions to be satisfied in winning this bet are quite specific:

1. The mission can be a manned or unmanned flyby probe or to be captured by the target star’s gravitational field. It will have been designed expressly as a mission to another star, and not an outer-solar-system mission that keeps going.

2. Allowed launch location of the spacecraft is any place in the solar system within the orbit of Neptune, either from the surface of a solar system body or from any orbital position.

3. As a minimum requirement for the mission the spacecraft shall be capable of delivering data for at least one scientific measurement.

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