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AS A CHILD I watched Neil Armstrong walk on the Moon. Shortly thereafter I began to catch reruns of Star Trek on television and from that point forward I was hooked. Star Trek, Star Wars, The Foundation Trilogy, Rendezvous with Rama, and others both inspired and challenged me. I studied physics and eventually landed my dream job at NASA. Midway through my career (so far), I went out on a professional limb and found myself researching propulsion systems for interstellar flight and having the coolest job title of my career, “NASA Manager for Interstellar Propulsion Research.” That’s no longer my job title. (But I kept the business cards!)

Unfortunately, that was also the end of NASA actually funding interstellar propulsion research. There have been a few minor studies since then, mostly performed by universities, but without serious investment. While some of these studies may have made important contributions toward our eventually becoming an interstellar species, the funding has been too low to actually help make it happen. Alas.

A few years later I was taking one of those management courses in which you have to create a poster that describes how you want to be remembered. The goal was to remind us that there is more to life than our work and, while I agree completely and I try to be both a devoted husband to my wife and a dedicated father to my children, it would be impossible to take the futurist and space advocate out of my life and then expect me to still be “me.” So when it came time to present my poster, I showed the class a drawing of our interstellar neighborhood and my sincere wish—that when the history of the first human colony on a habitable planet circling one of our nearby stars is written, that my name will at least be mentioned in a footnote. That’s it. A footnote—and what a footnote I hope it will be!

Les Johnson

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