Interstellar travel, light-driven spacecraft, suspended animation. It sounds like the formula for countless science fiction stories, but it could be reality in the not-so-far future if UC Santa Barbara researchers Philip Lubin and Joel Rothman get their way.
“Humanity has dreamed of interstellar flight for more than 100 years. We are working on bringing this dream to reality for all of us, but particularly for the next generation,” said Lubin, a physicist. He leads the UCSB Experimental Cosmology Group, which investigates, among many things, travel in deep space and searches for extraterrestrial intelligence.
Through the UCSB NASA Project Starlight program, Lubin’s team plans to use laser-propelled miniature spaceships (or “spacechips,” as they have been called) to transport the Rothman Group’s miniature lab animals across vast interstellar distances. These humble microscropic creatures — nematodes and tardigrades — are extremely hardy and can be placed in suspended animation to withstand the cold of space and the rigors of near light-speed travel through the cosmos.