$100 million pledged for Alpha Centauri mission

Image: Light sail propulsion
An artist’s conception shows how a laser beam could propel a light sail outward toward Alpha Centauri. (Credit: Breakthrough Starshot)

Fueled by an initial $100 million from Russian billionaire Yuri Milner, a team laden with big names laid out a multi-decade plan to send flurries of smartphone-sized probes to the Alpha Centauri system, powered by laser-driven light sails.

“For the first time in human history, we can do more than just gaze at the stars,” Milner said today at a New York news conference where the Breakthrough Starshot project was unveiled. “We can actually reach them. It is time to launch the next great leap in human history.”

Eventually, the plan will require billions of dollars more in funding – and much more planning as well. But the Starshot team boasts some top-drawer supporters: In addition to Milner, the board includes British physicist Stephen Hawking and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

During the news briefing, Hawking noted that life on Earth faces risks ranging from asteroid strikes to human-caused catastrophes. “If we are to survive as a species, we must ultimately spread to the stars,” he said.

The project’s executive director is Pete Worden, who previously headed NASA’s Ames Research Center. Today he said he’s already spoken with NASA officials about the plan. “They’re very eager to support us,” he told reporters.

Get the full story on GeekWire.

By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributing editor at GeekWire, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing. Check out "About Alan Boyle" for more fun facts.

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