Critical Update: How NASA Might One Day Send Humans Into Outer Space


NASA futurist Michael LaPointe joins the podcast to talk about what it will take—in technology, time and treasure—to get a human out of our solar system.

Using technology, humans are now able to see and probe beyond the reach of our home star, but how long before we’re able to travel and explore there firsthand?

According to Michael LaPointe, acting program executive for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts, or NIAC, the space agency’s window into the future, we’re many decades away from that benchmark. At this time, even if some significant technological advancements were to come to fruition, it would take a crewed mission several decades just to travel beyond the Sun’s reach—and that would be after all the planning, building and training it would take to prepare for such a mission.

With that in mind, LaPointe said speed is currently the biggest impediment.

“The main thing we need to do is go really, really fast,” he said. “That solves a lot of problems if we can do that.”

Such a mission would also require closed life support systems—including food, water and breathable air; having protection from harmful radiation; and “a purpose,” LaPointe said. “You don’t want to just send folks out. You want them to go out there for a reason.”

LaPointe joined the podcast to talk about what it will take to get a human past Pluto and beyond and how NIAC is funding the research that might someday get us there—ideas that are just this side of science fiction.

For a project to hit the sweet spot for NIAC, it should be “something we know is attainable, it’s just hard,” he said. “It needs to be ‘NIAC hard.’”

LaPointe also noted the upcoming NIAC Symposium in Tucson, Arizona, to be held September 20-22. The event is free to anyone interested in attending and will be livestreamed on NASA’s website.