National Air and Space Museum
This model of the fictional starship Enterprise was used in the weekly hourlong “Star Trek” TV series that aired September 1966 to June 1969.
updated 9/7/2012 2:20:32 PM ET 2012-09-07T18:20:32

Former President Bill Clinton has lent his support to the 100-Year Starship initiative, a project started by the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA ) to research interstellar travel.

While humanity has sent spacecraft throughout the solar system, traveling to another star is a whole different ballgame. The distances involved are significantly greater, and so are the attendant technological challenges.

"This important effort helps advance the knowledge and technologies required to explore space, all while generating the necessary tools that enhance our quality of life on Earth," Clinton said in a statement.

The issues associated with interstellar travel will be discussed at the upcoming 100-Year Starship Public Symposium, an event open to scientists and interested members of the public, from Sept. 13 through Sept. 16 in Houston.

"The 100YSS 2012 Public Symposium will bring together influential thought, scientific and cultural leaders to explore the technologies, science, social structures and strategies needed to make capabilities for human travel to another star system a reality within the next century," officials said in a statement.

Interstellar travel will be necessary if humanity ever hopes to visit another habitable world. More than 800 planets have been discovered beyond our solar system, with some of them potentially hospitable to life.

Speakers at the public event will include symposium Chairwoman Mae Jemison, the first female African American astronaut, as well as Star Trek actor LeVar Burton, astronomer Jill Tarter, a co-founder of the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute, and other notable thinkers.

Jemison also leads the 100-Year Starship organization, an independent, non-governmental organization that was founded this year using seed money from DARPA.

Visit next week for complete coverage of the 100YSS Public Symposium.

Follow Clara Moskowitz on Twitter @ClaraMoskowitz  or @Spacedotcom. We're also on Facebook  and  Google+.

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