The Interstellar Vision: Principles and Practice

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P. A. Gilster (2013), JBIS, 66, pp.223-232

Refcode: 2013.66.223
Keywords: Communication, education, public relations, Internet, interstellar

The ambitious title of the 100 Year Starship study will resonate with the public, a fact that requires the recipient of the DARPA grant to use communicators who can follow a careful strategy as they bring this vision to the Internet and other outlets. It will be necessary to spur public engagement and sustain the `buzz' that will help the organization develop its ideas. This paper examines these issues in the context of the author's long involvement with Centauri Dreams, a Web site devoted to presenting interstellar flight to a broad, general audience. Central to the presentation of the starship idea is the advocacy of long-term thinking and the value of spin-off research by placing the goal of a starship in the context of other human activities that have transcended the lifetime of individual participants. Teaching cross-generational responsibility will invoke issues of history, economics and philosophy in addition to the technology issues raised by a journey of this magnitude. The best communicators for this role will be generalists who can connect such widely dispersed disciplines. Key to the study is the development of a Web presence that uses the Internet with caution. Certain Internet myths including `the wisdom of crowds' and resistance to top-down editing will compromise the project. The benefits and drawbacks of social networking will be discussed in this context. A strong editorial voice willing to cull public responses to maintain high standards in the resulting discussions is essential. Furthermore, a high standard of reporting demands the presentation of research without associated hype and a level of discourse that educates but does not patronize its audience. Careful citation of relevant research and a willingness to set the bar of discussion high will result in feedback from researchers and the public that, with the help of strenuous moderation, will build a database of thirdparty ideas that will engage interest and add materially to the value of the overall research.

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