small logo Editorial

The Bet Has Been Won!
by Prof. H. Paul Shuch, Executive Director Emeritus

The wager was intriguing. It was proposed on the Long Bets website by Tibor Pacher, who runs the Peregrinus Interstellar website, and the challenge was accepted by Paul Gilster of Centauri Dreams. Since both parties to the wager are friends of The SETI League, I felt compelled to follow the debate closely.

The bet in question, as posted by Pacher, reads:

"The first true interstellar mission, targeted at the closest star to the Sun or even farther, will be launched before or on December 6, 2025 and will be widely supported by the public."
The conditions to be satisfied in winning this bet are quite specific:
  1. The mission can be a manned or unmanned flyby probe or to be captured by the target star's gravitational field. It will have been designed expressly as a mission to another star, and not an outer-Solar System mission that keeps going.
  2. Allowed launch location of the spacecraft is any place in the Solar system within the orbit of Neptune, either from the surface of a solar system body or from any orbital position.
  3. As a minimum requirement for the mission the spacecraft shall be capable to deliver data for at least one scientific measurement.
  4. Planned mission duration shall be less than 2.000 years.

Gilster is arguing against Pacher's prediction, but it seems to me that the bet has already been won. I would argue that the first interstellar missions have already launched, and that (exercising only a little imagination) they meet the above conditions. Those missions involve not spacecraft, but rather streams of photons, the fastest spaceships known to man.

Think about it: interstellar microwave transmissions probe other civilizations' interest in dialog, and pass numerous stars, thus are "flyby probes" in a sense. They are transmitted specifically for the purpose of reaching other solar systems. They have been "launched" (transmitted) several times from Earth, which is clearly within the orbit of Neptune. Some have conveyed scientific information about Earth, which satisfies the condition that they "deliver data for at least one scientific measurement." They travel at the speed of light, so within the 2,000 year mission duration, will reach stars within 2,000 LY of our own Sun. And they are widely supported by the public, as witness the large number of humans who have submitted messages to the various projects that beam them into space. So, congratulations Tibor, you win!

Nevertheless, Tibor and Paul agree that what they had in mind is slightly larger interstellar probes. So, I guess we'll have to wait a little longer to see whose position prevails.

Long Bets is an initiative of the future-oriented Long Now Foundation, and I've been a party to wagers posted there. Its purpose is to improve longterm thinking. Long Bets is a public arena for enjoyably competitive predictions, of interest to society, with philanthropic money at stake. The Long Now Foundation furnishes the continuity to see even the longest bets through to public resolution. Their website provides a forum for discussion about what may be learned from the bets and their eventual outcomes.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

Click to email the Webmaster
| Home | General | Memb Svcs | Publications | Press | Technical | Internet | Index |
entire website copyright © The SETI League, Inc.; Maintained by Microcomm
this page last updated 4 October 2008
Click for top of page
Top of Page