Daily Archives: August 6th, 2008

Long Bet Update

I’ve been surprised by the sizable reaction to my bet with Tibor Pacher, not just in terms of comments here but in related e-mails. For those of you who missed the original post, I found Tibor’s prediction that the first interstellar mission would be launched by 2025 to be an irresistible target. Tibor posted the prediction on the Long Bets site, and the way this works is that someone willing to make a bet on the prediction puts down the money upfront and challenges the predictor to match it.

Negotiations follow, the outcome being that if the terms are worked out and the bet is accepted, it is finalized. Both parties send in their money, and the money grows over the years in a long-term investment portfolio called the Farsight Fund. Ultimately, either the Tau Zero Foundation or (Tibor’s choice) the SOS-Kinderdorf International, will enjoy the result.

Now that Tibor and I have finalized the terms, the details will go up on Long Bets as soon as our funds arrive (which should be in a few days). Until then, I thought you might be interested in some of the details we settled upon. Among other things, we have agreed that:

  • The mission can be a manned or unmanned, either a flyby probe or a spacecraft intended to be captured by the target star’s gravitational field. The mission will have been designed expressly as a mission to another star, and as not an outer-Solar System mission that simply keeps going, with a star more or less along its route of flight.
  • The allowed launch location of the spacecraft is any place in the Solar system within the orbit of Neptune, either from the surface of a Solar System body or from any orbital position.
  • The mission duration must be less than 2000 years.
  • As a minimum requirement for the mission the spacecraft shall be capable of delivering data for at least one scientific measurement.

The actual text of these details and a few other matters will be posted soon on the Long Bets site — I’ll provide the link once it’s available. And as I’ve told more than a few people, I would be delighted to be proven wrong on this matter, for it would mean that our technology is advancing at a far faster clip than I currently assume, and also that enough public support will exist to make such a mission possible. That sort of optimism (even though I think it’s premature) is a bracing tonic after the weekend’s loss of NanoSail-D, a solar sail deployment experiment.

I have to hand it to Paul and Tibor, they have a lot more optimism than I can claim, or wish to have. The loss of the light sail experiment makes number three loss that I know of ( previous Russian and Japanese experiments were destroyed during failed launches ). And of all provable mainstream concepts, this one is sure to work. If we can only get the damn things into orbit to test them!

Then maybe centuries hence, our descendants can have their own legend of The Lady Who sailed The Soul.

Of Solar Sails, Bets and Optimism