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Inventing the Future With 100 Year Starship (#100YSS Friday)

The best way to predict the future is to invent it. –Alan Kay

Can we steer humanity away from environmental collapse, austerity, and war with a dream of a new tomorrow?

Loretta Whitesides at a podium.

Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, of Yuri’s Night and Virgin Galactic, encourages 100YSS to think like interstellar citizens.

Formal programming began Friday at the 100 Year Starship Symposium in Houston, Texas. Dr. Mae Jemison opened by urging us to seek dramatic change and innovation if we’re to birth a better world. “We have to be audacious. It won’t be easy and it won’t happen by accident,” she told us. According to Jemison, space exploration began when we started studying the movements of the stars centuries ago. But recently we’ve lost our way. “Even here in we don’t always get what space has to do with us.” The 100 Year Starship wants to liberate the idea of space travel from rocket scientists and billionaires: “It must include the full range of humans.”

Jemison hurried through her remarks so that she could introduce our opening speaker, Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides. Whitesides is the Zero Gravity Flight Director at Virgin Galactic, where she’s racked up many hours of 0G flight time in short bursts on parabolic flights. With her husband, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, she cofounded Yuri’s Night, an international holiday dedicated to honoring pioneering moments of space flight.

Whitesides speech was one of the most passionate I’ve heard all event. Space flight — especially interstellar travel — is a nerdy pursuit. As I discussed with Dr. Jemison after SXSW, even astronauts don’t always feel comfortable admitting they dream of going to the stars. But in her speech, Whitesides passion for the topic was real and unfiltered, her voice cracking with emotion as she introduced, then discussed the YouTube video at the top of this article. Her love of space seemed so visceral that she could not hide it if she wanted, and her openness encouraged us all to be the same.

Whitesides calls herself a “space muse,” and said she’s identified three points of focus she thinks are crucial to achieving the goals of the 100 Year Starship:

  1. Improving Ourselves. We have to be “ambassadors of an interstellar civilization.” She asked us to “be the Jedis we always wanted to be,” and work to make examples of a better way of living now, in our lives, if we hope to become the elevated species Carl Sagan predicts in his Pale Blue Dot speech.
  2. Cultivate the Overview Effect. When astronauts go to space, many of them experience a dramatic shift in perspective when they see the Earth from orbit. They realize that national boundaries are an illusion (none can be seen from there!) and how fragile our world is to the universe around it. We must find ways to share this effect with all of humanity.
  3. Public Outreach. “We have to keep this conversation alive,” she told us. By actively thinking ahead into the distant future, we can help invent that better tomorrow we really want. It’s up to everyone who dreams of space to fight against the loss of that dream.

She closed by quoting from Contact:

Ellie: Dad, do you think there’s people on other planets?

Ted Arroway: I don’t know, Sparks. But I guess I’d say if it is just us… seems like an awful waste of space.

Whitesides suggested we are on a historical cusp and, if we don’t take this opportunity to help humanity evolve, “that would be an awful waste of space.” [cont’d.]

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Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and Occupy.com.