(JTA) — Russian-Jewish philanthropist and entrepreneur Yuri Milner is investing $100 million in an interstellar project that includes Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and Nobel laureate Stephen Hawking.
Breakthrough Starshot, which will send tiny robot spacecrafts into space, was announced Tuesday at a New York news conference. The project would take decades and cost as much as $10 billion, The New York Times reported.
According to Reuters, such a project could determine whether or not Alpha Centauri, a star system about 25 trillion miles away, contains an Earth-like planet capable of sustaining life.
The project’s board is composed of Milner, Hawking and Zuckerberg, who also is Jewish. Milner and Hawking, a British astrophysicist, also teamed in 2015 on a 10-year project called the Breakthrough Listen Initiative, which searches for intelligent extraterrestrial life.
Breakthrough Starshot will be directed by Pete Worden, a former director of NASA’s Ames Research Center.
“There are about 20 key challenges we are asking the world’s scientific experts to help us with — and we are willing to financially support their work,” Worden told the Times in an email.
The $100 million is an initial investment by Milner for research and development. He said he is hoping to lure other investors from around the world.
The largest expense will be operating a “giant laser array” that could send probes toward any star or around the solar system, the Times reported.
Milner said he was initially skeptical of an interstellar probe, but believes the advances in nanotechnology and lasers have made the project more viable. The robot spacecrafts will be sent 4.37 light years away and return with measurements and pictures.