Two leading U.S. research organizations are launching a year-long study to examine the financing of interplanetary travel.
The 100-Year Starship study, undertaken by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency and the NASA Ames Research Center, is looking at the business model needed to pay for the technology which could make long-distance manned space flight possible a century from now, DARPA said.
The project has attracted widespread attention after the director of NASA's Ames Research Center, Simon (Pete) Worden, revealed it at an event in San Francisco on Oct. 16, media reports said.
"The human space program is now really aimed at settling other worlds," Worden reportedly said.
Worden's comments prompted speculation that trips to Mars could be only 20 years away. Commentators talked about the difficulties of such a trip because of the cost, estimated at $10 billion US one-way, and the likelihood that the explorers would not be able to ever return to Earth.
However, the actual study has very little money, funded with $1 million from DARPA and $100,000 from NASA, Worden said. NASA's budget this year was over $18 billion, and a $100-million project is small in its books.
And DARPA, the U.S. military's research and development office, is taking a long view, it said in a news release.
Paul Eremenko, DARPA co-ordinator for the study, said the project hoped to "excite several generations to commit to the research and development of breakthrough technologies and cross-cutting innovations" needed to make long-distance space flight a reality.