Using solar sails with a laser driven power system to launch from orbit, and traveling at 20% of the speed of light, tiny little Starships will visit Alpha Centauri. There will be a swarm of postage stamp sized nanocraft sent to our nearest neighbor to look for signs of life and give us more detailed information about the resources available there. If you are asking When will this happen?, they are working on it now, with the goal of launching within a decade or two. The folks involved in Breakthrough Starshot include Steven Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Yuri Milner, Ann Druyan, and a host of others.
The NASA spacecraft Dawn became the first man made object to go into orbit around a dwarf planet this month. Ceres holds that distinction, along with Pluto, but Ceres is a lot closer and easier to get to. This wasn’t Dawn’s first visit to a celestial body; it stopped off at the giant asteroid Vesta on it’s way to Ceres, spending from 2011 to 2012 there and sending back a ton of data. The other thing I find exciting about this mission is that Dawn is flying using an Ion Engine, allowing it to do really long range sustained controlled flight. The Ion Engine technology is going to help open up the outer Solar System to the kinds of exploration you just can’t do when your flight is based on gravity assist orbital changes alone.
The original model used in filming the Star Trek series was donated to the Smithsonian, and now they have produced and published an X-Ray Analysis of the Starship Enterprise for everyone to enjoy. You can also see pictures there of where it now hangs in the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. If you are in the neighborhood you can attend the Star Trek’s Continuing Relevance symposium at 1PM on Thursday May 16th at the Moving Beyond Earth exhibit in Gallery 113. I should probably also mention that they will not be showing Star Trek Into Darkness at the IMAX theater at the Air and Space Museum on the mall, but they will be showing it at the Udvar-Hazy Center Airbus IMAX Theater in Chantilly, VA. That is the Air and Space annex out by Dulles Airport, you should time your attendance to be able to wander through the Udvar-Hazy Center Museum and see their incredible collection of exhibits, which includes the Space Shuttle Discovery.