Medgadget editor Dan Buckland spoke at the DARPA 100 Year Star Ship Symposium in Orlando last weekend. Here he relates his thoughts on how blue-sky starship planning is relevant to medical technology today.
The first question most people had when they heard about the DARPA 100YSS Study was, “Why is DARPA interested in how to build a space ship a hundred years from now?” DARPA is known for far out projects, like the Internet itself, but even this seemed far out for them. In the first talk of the symposium, David Neyland, the DARPA Tactical Technology Office Director who came up with the idea, answered the question and provided reasons why we at Medgadget should care about the project. He said that all of the innovations necessary for a successful multi-generational starship would be things the defense department would be interested in as well. Smaller, more efficient power generation, radiation shielding, life support, food generation, life extension, habitats, and even the possible corporate structures of the agency responsible for designing and building the craft, were some of the topics discussed. If you look back through the archives of MedGadget, we care about all of these as well.
The speakers were a nice mix of PhDs, garage engineers, philosophers, artists, entrepreneurs, and self-described space geeks. There was an interesting subset of speakers who were long-time NASA employees who used this opportunity to finally talk about all the radical ideas they had been mulling over. The mood of the conference was more “best guess” than any other conference I have attended, with participants encouraged to extrapolate beyond what existing data could support. Science fiction authors were on hand to support scientists who found this part difficult. Official and informal discussions were not limited to the star ship development. I talked with a former geologist who is now a couture fashion designer thinking of using the tech behind implantable devices in his clothing and heard many ideas (of differing believability) on how nanorobots could fix people and machines, in one case by combining them. Open source and social media advocates were out in force, speaking about how their various techniques are being used to solve healthcare problems now and should be used for starship design in the future.
The mood of the conference was very optimistic, with the overriding theme being that all problems are solvable with enough time and money. While no one knows where the money would be coming from, there were many ideas on how to spend it. My favorite part of the symposium was the frequent coffee breaks between the short hour-long sessions. This seemed to limit the amount of people moving around during a session, and greatly increased the amount of mingling and random interactions between groups of folks. I think a similar model could be used to jumpstart other seemingly insurmountable multi-disciplinary healthcare problems. Perhaps a NIH 25BMI symposium with the goal of reducing America’s average BMI below 25 in 25 yrs.
I wasn’t there as a journalist, so can’t report many more specifics without getting permission of the people I talked to, but all of the papers and talks are supposed to be posted online at some point. So keep an eye out on www.100yss.org if you are interested.