the centauri project
manned interstellar travel

By: Thomas M. Ciesla
Originally published in the proceedings of   Vision 21 Symposium: Space Travel for the Next Millennium, NASA, Lewis Research Center; April 1990. Article has been reformatted for online publishing


Interstellar space exploration is at once profoundly exciting and profoundly frightening. The isolation and vast distances along the paths of these starlines are beyond the understanding of today's civilizations. The Alpha Centauri star system, our Sun's closest stellar neighbor, lies 4.3 light years away from us. This is the equivalent of just over twenty-five trillion miles. A one way trip to Proxima Centauri, the closest member of this three star system, will require 30-50 years, depending on the minimum cruise velocity required (between 10 to 30% of the speed of light).

If the exploration of the solar system is the 'Third Great Age of Discovery' as suggested by Pyne [ref. 12], the exploration of star systems will herald the dawn of the Fourth Age of Discovery. Though each age ultimately deals with worlds beyond the terrestrial sphere, the discovery and exploration of stellar systems is fundamentally different from the discovery of abiotic planets within our own solar system. The rift valleys, ice caps and red deserts of Mars, the volcanoes of Io and the great cliffs of Miranda are images that our civilization can understand through terrestrial counterparts. Images of stellar systems bear few if any physical, temporal or social symbols recognizable to our civilization.

It is necessary for the structure of a paper such as this to make assumptions. The time frame of this mission is placed in the latter part of the twenty-first century - when we assume that man has explored and colonized the majority of Solar Systems. This colonization effort has established a network of manufacturing plants and O'Neill type colonies amongst the Jovian planetary systems. [Ref. 11] Construction in space is a mature technology, as is materials processing and the use of antimatter engines for propulsion. Finally, it is assumed that non-centrifugal artificial gravity has been developed and implemented in a number of vessels and orbiting colonies.

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Figure 1
Exterior View Of Interstellar Vessel

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