How a spaceship the size of a postage-stamp could find humanity’s new home planet

Theoretical Physicist, Author, and Science Educator
Theoretical physicist Michio Kaku doesn't just hope that humanity finds its way onto other planets... he's even picked out the ones we should be moving to — Proxima Centauri B, in the Alpha Centauri triple star system. He's even suggested that the next great space exploration could happen on a spaceship the size of a postage stamp, traveling 20% the speed of light, sent by using high-powered lasers. It sounds like a wild theory, but if anyone's wild theories could come true in the next 100 years, it's probably Michio Kaku. His latest book is The Future of Humanity: Terraforming Mars, Interstellar Travel, Immortality, and Our Destiny Beyond Earth.
  • Transcript


Michio Kaku: We’ve been brainwashed into thinking—by Hollywood—that a starship has to be huge and gigantic, the size of the Enterprise. 

However, the laws of physics make possible sending postage stamp-sized chips to the nearby stars. 

So think of a chip perhaps this big on a parachute, and have thousands of them sent into outer space energized by perhaps 800 megawatts of laser power. By shooting this gigantic bank of laser energy into outer space, by energizing all these mini parachutes you could then begin to accelerate of them to about 20 percent the speed of light. 

This is with doable technology today; it’s just a question of engineering. It’s a question of political will and economics, but there’s no physics, there’s no law of physics preventing you from shooting these chips to 20 percent the speed of light. 

That means Proxima Centauri, part of the Alpha Centauri triple star system, could be within the range of such a device. Now think about that, that means that within 20 years, after 20 years of launch we might be able to have the first starship go to a nearby planet. And it turns out that Proxima Centauri B is an Earth-like planet that circles around the closest star to the planet Earth. What a coincidence. 

It means that we’ve already staked out our first destination for visitation by an interstellar starship and that is Proxima Centauri B, a planet that goes around one of the stars in the triple star system. And so this could be the first of many different kinds of starship designs.

In my book The Future of Humanity, I go through many of the possible design including fusion rockets, ramjet fusion rockets, including antimatter rockets. 

Some of these rockets, of course, or technologies won’t be available till the next 100 years, but remember we’re talking about the future of humanity, and the future of humanity I think could be in outer space.