Yuri Milner, along with scientists and other members of Silicon Valley, will perhaps be sending a fleet of robotic spacecrafts to explore Alpha Centauri, the nearest star system to our own. This project, announced on April 12 as “Breakthrough Starshot,” is an attempt to bring humanity into the interstellar age.
The current plan is to send a rocket that would deliver roughly a thousand tiny probes into space, where they would then unfold and be propelled by lasers on Earth. These powerful lasers will send each spacecraft toward Alpha Centauri, which is 4.37 light-years away from Earth. It would take around twenty years for the probes to reach the star system, and there will be many that do not survive the journey. Those that do will photograph and measure the system, and send the collected data back to earth.
Stephen Hawking, the well-known cosmologist and author, and Mark Zuckerberg, the founder of Facebook, are working alongside Milner on the board of directors for this mission. Pete Worden, former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center, will be directing this mission. Advisors of this project include many scientists and mathematicians from different colleges and institutions, including Nobel-Prize winning astronomer Saul Perlmutter and Ann Druyan, widow of Carl Sagan and executive producer of “Cosmos: A Space Odyssey.”
“Breakthrough Starshot” is expected to take roughly 20 years to develop the technology and launch it into space. Then, it would take an additional 20 years for the probes to reach their desired destination, and about four more years for the information gathered from the probes to return back to earth. The project, despite the issues regarding how long it will take, has also been predicted to cost anywhere from $5 billion to $10 billion. Mr. Milner is hoping to gather investors from international sources. NASA and the European Space Agency have already been briefed on the matter in hopes that they will contribute to the project financially.
“What makes human beings unique?” Dr. Hawking asked, “I believe that what makes us unique is transcending our limits. Today we commit to the next great leap in the cosmos, because we are human and our nature is to fly.”