The subject of Interstellar Studies derives its name from a set of special red cover issues of the Journal of the British Interplanetary Society, published between 1974 – 1991. These issues were edited by Gerald Grooves and Anthony Martin and they included papers on interstellar communications and the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI). This collection of papers represents the golden age of interstellar research. Indeed, the British Interplanetary Society (1933) has been the ‘torch holders’ of the interstellar vision for much of the last half century. Prior to this, the first technical paper addressing the interstellar challenge was published in the same journal in 1952 by Dr Les Shepherd. This can be considered the beginning of interstellar Studies as an academic research subject. He was also one of the pioneers of atomic rockets, a former Chairman of the BISand former President and co-founder of the International Astronautical Federation (IAF). Throughout the last 60 years many papers have been published addressing the science and technology associated with interstellar flight. Publications have also examined wider questions of social consequences, philosophical view points and political or economic issues. This large body of work demonstrates that the interstellar challenge is one that engulfs a broad range of subjects and likely requires the application of a multitude of solution types.
In recent decades, the subject has gradually gained prominence with several books being published, documentaries made. This has occurred in conjunction with the successful rise of science fiction and the visions of other worlds or starships that these stories would have us visualise. Yet, despite this progress the subject remains unorganized, uncoordinated, un-financed. Most of the credible research is conducted by volunteers, who would perform some other occupation during the day, and design starships during the night. Several organizations have been created in recent years that seek to work towards a co-ordinated effort. This includes the NASA Vision 21 Group (2001), The Interstellar Propulsion Society (2002), Tau Zero Foundation (2004), Perigrinus Interstellar (2005), Icarus Interstellar (2011), 100 Year Starship (2012). These organizations have noble goals and mission statements but neither has succeeded in creating an umbrella organization for interstellar research or in garnering significant financial investment into the interstellar subject. Although these are excellent attempts to catalyse interstellar research, these organizations also do not work together for mutual benefit and purpose, a necessary condition if the goal of getting the interstellar subject accepted as a main stream research field is to be achieved.
The Institute for Interstellar Studies was created in 2012, sixty years after the publication of the JBIS paper by Dr Les Shepherd. Our goal is to create a long term research strategy which pulls all of the other organizations together in a co-operative way and if we can, to invite significant investment across the field, be it with people, energy or financial in type. If we are successful, then we would share these resources with the other organizations to assist them in growing their grass roots support base, research programs and organizational structure. The vision of the Institute for Interstellar Studies is not to see one organization subsumed into another, but create a nexus about which all of the other organizations can depend upon, so as to assist them to affect their individual mission statements to the best of their ability and resources. In addition, the institute will also undertake its own research programs (theoretical and experimental) as well as set up an educational academy to assist students who desire to work towards a career in space.
The mission of the Institute for Interstellar Studies is to conduct activities or research relating to the challenges of achieving robotic and human interstellar flight. We will address the scientific, technological, political and social and cultural issues. We will seed high-risk high-gain initiatives, and foster the breakthroughs where they are required. We will work with anyone co-operatively from the global community who desires to invest their time, energy and resources towards catalyzing an interstellar civilization. Our goal is to create the conditions on Earth and in space so that starflight becomes possible by the end of the twenty first century or sooner by helping to create an interplanetary and then an interstellar explorer species. We will seek out evidence of life beyond the Earth, wherever it is to be found. We will achieve this by harnessing knowledge, new technologies, imagination and intellectual value to create innovative design and development concepts, defined and targeted public outreach events as well as cutting edge entrepreneurial and educational programs. The Institute for Interstellar Studies will focus its efforts on several areas, this includes
(1) providing a facility and forum for fundamental research into interstellar flight
(2) providing an Educational Academy to support students on their careers to become space scientists or other related fields
(3) to initiate knowledge capture activities so that information is readily available to the research community
(4) to organize or contribute to symposiums, workshops or conferences, to provide an opportunity for networking and the sharing of ideas
(5) to help communicate the vision of interstellar flight to the public, media, industry and government
(6) to provide for a co-operative relationship between the institute and similar organizations, aligning programs where appropriate and seeking to work towards shared ambitions
(7) to garner investment into the community, including financial.
Our view is that an interstellar capable of society can be established by the end of this century. What does this mean? It does not mean that by the year 2100 Starships will be travelling regularly between stars, no. What it means is that as a society, we will have the science knowledge, cultural understanding and support, political and economic provision, to begin a program for the first human mission, using the capabilities that exist at that time. That said, we believe it is quite plausible to send uncrewed robotic ambassadors to other stars in the coming decades and the Institute will work towards that goal as a key mission and technology demonstration. If you believe that what we are doing has merit, then we invite you to join with us in some capacity. Our doors are open, and together we can have eyes open to the future possibilities that await us in space – a human space faring civilisation seeking knowledge at is key purpose, at peace with itself and in harmony with the Universe.
“Scientia ad sidera”
(Knowledge to the Stars)