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Starship Congress 2019: Bend Metal

Icarus Interstellar hosts conference to awaken the interstellar space exploration industry

Photo by Beth Accomando

Director Marc Boas and President Andreas Tziolas of Icarus Interstellar at the San Diego Air and Space Museum where their Starship Congress will be taking place Sept. 13 through 15.

Suggested viewing

"2001: A Space Odyssey" (1968)

"The Right Stuff" (1983)

"Moon" (2009)

"Apollo 11" (2019)

Icarus Interstellar wants to see space travel become a reality. One way it works toward that goal is by engaging artists, scientists, entrepreneurs and the general public through a biennial event called Starship Congress that runs Sept. 13 through 15 at the San Diego Air and Space Museum.

Interstellar flight has sometimes been called humankind’s greatest challenge. Icarus Interstellar has been working for nearly a decade with the space and interstellar community to study, research and encourage thinking outside the box to bring forth ideas, concepts and innovations that could bring us closer to space travel.

Andreas Tziolas got interested in the topic as a child watching “Star Trek.” Now he serves as president of Icarus Interstellar, which sponsors the Starship Congress.

"Starship Congress is a premier gathering of space scientists who are concerned and interested in deep space and interstellar achievements for the human race," Tziolas explained. "We separate those efforts from other space achievements in that they're very long term. We're trying to achieve long-term achievements in deep space and interstellar exploration means building really strong fundamental capacity in space and capability. And it's a field that that is not commonly addressed because it feels like it's too far into the future. But what we do is try to bring those questions back into the contemporary state of space and economic and social thought and community thought and say look a path and an effort towards interstellar exploration is something that would fundamentally change our society both technologically but also socially. And this is a really fascinating and deep subject to work on."

Starship Congress happens every other year and each has a different thematic focus. Starship Congress 2019 is called Bend Metal and will explore the business case for Interstellar.

"We call on entrepreneurs, scientists, thinkers to come and bring us ideas for innovations that would help construct a starship at some point in the future. But we ask a difficult question. We ask, ‘How would those innovations find a market and be a successful business on earth today?'" Tziolas said.

Because the TV show "Star Trek" was Tziolas' entry point into science, he places a high value on artists and pop culture and likes to include both as part of the discussion.

"I've maintained for many years that television is 21st-century storytelling," Tziolas said. "We don't quite read as many fairy tales and we don't come up with like things like Aesop's Fables, but right now the artist is able to articulate that through television. So people's ambitions, people's desires and also the formality and the refinement of how we appreciate interstellar, how we appreciate space specifically in interstellar flight, really comes out of it. The reason we watch these shows is because it's in a framework of a world that we would aspire to participate in."

Although many of the speakers are scientists, Tzioloas insists that anyone can come to the conference not just to listen to what's being presented but also to contribute ideas and ask questions.

"It is absolutely built and designed very carefully to be welcoming to everyone because the ideas are meant to be shared on every level," Tziolas added. "People that participate can come from all walks of life and they'll undoubtedly have something to participate in what we call the starship. So whether they're plumbers or installing carpets, all of these things are going to be needed. So we want people to come in and say, 'Hey, I've been a plumber for 40 years and you guys don't know what you're talking about when it comes to plumbing.' We also want to get across the idea that what we mean when we call something a starship. We mean it both literally like we do want to build a spacecraft that's capable of traveling to another star. But starship could be the Starship Earth. It could be the technology that's pulled apart that could be used to provide reusable, renewable energy and food and water for a rural village in Alaska or in Hawaii."

Icarus Interstellar also places value on citizen scientists, people who want to partake in this idea of space travel but may not have a scientific background. Through Icarus Interstellar these types of people could be paired with a scientist or mentor to work on research or contribute ideas.

"So after about 10 years now, we have trained over 550 citizen scientists, which we proudly call them interstellar engineers," Tziolas explained. "But while they're working on projects everyone has exactly the same rank. We call everyone a designer. So a researcher from NASA or an academic or a professor or a brand new student that wants to come on board, they're all called designers. They all interact and exchange ideas on the same level."

Starship Congress runs Friday through Sunday at the San Diego Air and Space Museum. Panel topics range from microbots as the seeds of interstellar colonization to starship hacking to futurism for financiers.

Listen to this story by Beth Accomando.

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