In DepthQ&A

Shooting for a star

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Science  27 May 2016:
Vol. 352, Issue 6289, pp. 1040-1041
DOI: 10.1126/science.352.6289.1040

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Last month, Russian internet billionaire Yuri Milner announced plans to send thousands of tiny spacecraft to visit Alpha Centauri, the closest star system to Earth. In order to cover the vast distance—41 trillion kilometres—in a reasonable time, the proposed spacecraft will each weigh less than a gram and will unfurl lightweight sails to catch laser beams shot from Earth, accelerating them to one-fifth the speed of light. But the proposal has polarized opinion: Some are enthused by its ambition, whereas others say it is costly and unnecessary, isn't feasible, or is downright dangerous. Milner speaks with Science about the challenges facing the project and how he answers his critics.

  • * Zeeya Merali is a writer in London.