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Are We Alone? Tiny Spacecraft Will Head to Alpha Centauri to Find Out

“This is addressing one of humanity’s fundamental questions: Are we alone?” says Breakthrough Starshot Executive Director S. Pete Worden, who ran the NASA Ames center in Mountain View, California, for nine years. “If we find a life-bearing planet orbiting nearby stellar systems, that’s one of the most fundamental discoveries of all time.” Starshot isn’t the kind of space mission you’re used to. It won’t use a mammoth rocket to propel a heavy spacecraft. NASA’s New Horizons interplanetary probe weighed a bit more than a half ton, for example. Instead, Breakthrough Starshot plans to use a giant Earth-based laser array to shoot a fleet of nearly weightless spacecraft traveling much, much faster. The spacecraft could be just 3 to 12 feet across and weigh as little as a thimbleful of water.

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