Ad Astra

I went to SXSW in Austin over the weekend.  I was there mostly as I was invited to speak at a dinner sponsored by Springboard Enterprises, of which I’m an alum, and Avinde, both organizations dedicated to helping women entrepreneurs start and fund their growth businesses.  I had the pleasure of spending the whole of Saturday with the incomparable Amy Millman, the spark-plug that keeps Springboard running.  She introduced me to a number of interesting folks including Mae Jemison, M.D., the visionary behind the 100 Year Starship effort.

For me, this was very interesting and a bit of a flashback to my college years in that my roommate, Joy Shaffer, M.D., also had an obsession with going to space, and most particularly, to the stars.  Joy had later shared with me a masterful analysis that she had undertaken to calculate when it would likely be economically and technologically feasible to go the stars and another analysis of when it would be likely economically and technologically feasible to terraform Mars.  Both, according to her analysis, would coincidentally be feasible in roughly two hundred years.  That was starting 25 years ago, when Joy did her analysis.

Thus, Dr. Jamison’s goal would accelerate Dr. Shaffer’s predicted time frame by 75 to 100 years sooner.  Sad to say, I’m not likely to live long enough to see if Dr. Jamison can accomplish that acceleration.  I’m not at all convinced that Dr. Jamison’s ideas of how to accomplish this will work.  But I do believe that we will be going to the stars.

I just have very strong opinions on how we will be going there:  Seed Ships.

Science fiction authors love to invent ways around the basic issue that the stars are a long way off.  There are four ways that typically get talked about, Relativistic Rocket, Generation Ship, Seed Ship, and (magically) Faster-Than-Light (FTL).  I live in the real world… and FTL is not ever going to be feasible.  The concept of sending live humans at very high fractional C speeds via rocket is also out.  But a slow boat, going only a small fraction of C is very reasonable.  But trying to send green houses, livestock, and humans on single or even multigenerational voyages is just asking for the ‘demon Murphy’ to strike.  But a seed ship, where no live beings are sent, only an artificial intelligence and a very sophisticated bio-lab with stored DNA, is another matter.

I imagine such ships being sent out by the hundreds to stars with suitable worlds in the ‘Goldie-locks’ zone not too far and not too close to the star.  In my imagination, ever fertile, I imagine that we would select worlds more like Venus than Mars… ones with “too much” carbon-dioxide that can be terraformed with photosynthesis, pulling out the carbon, locking it up in life and fossil life.  I imagine that we would seed those worlds with high atmospheric floating organisms that would live, grow, reproduce, and die, falling to the surface, releasing oxygen and storing the excess carbon on the ground.  These organisms would be bioengineered specifically for this mission.  In time, hundreds, to thousands of years, the atmosphere would become thinner and cooler, allowing at some point, life to colonize the surface.  At that point, our seed ship would begin populating the surface with new lifeforms, extremophiles at first, and later more conventional single celled organisms… preparing for the day, when complex multicellular surface ecosystems can be established on the surface… including humans.

Ad Astra !!

United States Patent Office 225th Anniversary

I will be on a panel at the USPTO’s celebration of its 225th anniversary on April 10th, 2015, speaking on the “Challenge of the Future”.  I will be joining two National Inventor Hall of Fame inductees, Jim West and Al Langer.

For more information:

Addendum 4/12/2015:

I enjoyed participating in the event, getting to meet some really great people, especially my two co-panalists.  You can view some photos of the event here:

Addendum 4/23/2015:

I received the following email from Michelle Lee today,

Dear Ms. Elliott,

I want to take a moment to personally thank you for your involvement in commemorating the 225th anniversary of the first Patent Act on April 10. The events of the day were a resounding success and reaffirmed the important purpose of intellectual property and its role in the technological development of our nation and the world.

It was an honor to have you participate in the discussion panel with the other inventors. Your inspiring discussion of your inventions, as well as innovation in general and the importance of intellectual property in creating it, was truly enlightening. The combined wisdom offered that afternoon is not something, I am sure, anyone in the room will soon forget.

Soon after George Washington signed the Patent Act of 1790, Secretary of State Thomas Jefferson, Secretary of War Henry Knox, and Attorney General Edmund Randolph began meeting as the first board of patent examiners to evaluate submitted applications for “letters patent.” They granted just three patents that first year. As you recently witnessed, the USPTO has now issued over 9 million U.S. patents, collectively detailing and disclosing the vast majority of mankind’s technologies. It is the great honor of this agency, one whose origins are rooted in the Constitution itself, to catalog, protect, and promote the Progress of Science and Useful Arts.

Thank you again for your participation in marking the 225th anniversary of the first Patent Act. We greatly appreciate your involvement and could not have made it as successful without you.



Under Secretary of Commerce for Intellectual Property and Director

United States Patent and Trademark Office