At a news conference held in San Francisco on Saturday, NASA Ames director Simon Worden talked about what his division was doing with funding from DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency). Something he called the "Hundred Year Starship" project.
The project has been given $1 million dollars from DARPA and another $100,000 from NASA in the hopes of utilizing new propulsion ideas. One of which is familiar to Star Trek fans the world over: Electric propulsion.
Quoting Mr. Worden, “Anybody that watches the (Star Trek starship) Enterprise, you know you don’t see huge plumes of fire," he said. "Within a few years we will see the first true prototype of a spaceship that will take us between worlds.”
The Hundred Year Ship Project is now aimed at settling other worlds.
Mr. Worden is seeking out some billionaires the likes of which include Larry Page-Google founder, to help get the idea off the launch pad so to speak. Quoting again, "You don’t have to carry all the fuel," he said. "You use that energy from a laser or microwave power to heat a propellant; it gets you a pretty big factor of improvement. I think that’s one way of getting off the world.”
This news dovetails with a recent article published in the latest issue of Popular Science (November 2010), the cover article entitled "39 Days to Mars." It was an article that focus on former astronaut Franklin Chang Diaz and his Variable Specific Impulse Magnetoplasma Rocket (VASIMR) engine.
The VASIMR uses a electrical source such as a nuclear reactor or a solar generator to transform hydrogen gas into plasma. Powerful magnets then force the plasma out of the rocket engine up to 123,000 mph.
One can suppose that Mr. Worden was indeed referring to the VASIMR in his talks with Larry Page and at the news conference.
UPDATE (October 31, 2010): Found this interesting take on this subject here (http://www.suite101.com/content/newly-revealed-nasa-cover-up-another-possible-future-ufo-a302707).
Ref. "NASA preps '100-year spaceship' program to boldly go where none have gone before" By Peter Farquhar. October 23, 2010. (http://www.news.com.au/technology/nasa-preps-100-year-spaceship-programme-to-boldly-go-where-none-have-gone-before/story-e6frfro0-1225941547507).
image is Star Trek USS Enterprise pulled off of the net from Paramount Pictures.