The Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop (TVIW) was an outgrowth of the Friday Night Dinner Club (FNDC), which has met in Oak Ridge, TN on Friday evenings from 2004 to the present. The attendees were mostly professionals in science and engineering, and conversation typically centered on contemporary research topics, particularly with regard to space missions. Evening discussions resulted in publications of several papers, preparation of proposals for innovative space missions and in 3 papers accepted to the IAA’s 7th Biennial Symposium on Realistic Near-Term Scientific Space Missions, held in Aosta, Italy in July, 2011. It was on the patio of a charming little hotel in the ancient city of Aosta in the Italian Alps, that the idea of holding an Interstellar Symposium in the Tennessee Valley was conceived. The first Symposium proved an opportunity for like-minded people to get together and discuss how to move humanity into space, and to promote interstellar exploration, travel, and communications. Six very successful TVIW Symposia have been held. In August of 2020 the Tennessee Valley Interstellar Workshop reorganized as the Interstellar Research Group (IRG) to better reflect it’s current goals and structure, which have expanded beyond being a regional organization in the United States to become a fully national and international group.
TVIW incorporated with an official founding date of January 18, 2014, and selected the first TVIW Board of Directors from FNDC participants: John Preston, President; Martha Knowles, Sect/Treasurer; Ken Roy; David Fields; and Robert Kennedy. Les Johnson was Advisor. Current Board Members are Doug Loss, President; Joseph Meany, Secretary; Lauren Randolph, Treasurer; Laura Montgomery; Paul Gilster; Stephen Fleming; and Michael Birchfield. A current advisor is Les Johnson, who together with a separate advisory board that has been expanded to include professionals in aerospace, publishing, academia, and the United States military. John D. Rather was an advisor to the Board for the TVIW 2018 special symposium, “The Power of Synergy.”
The mission of IRG is to facilitate interstellar research and exploration by hosting regular summit meetings, encouraging educational advances, publishing technical and scientific papers, and supporting literature and culture, all in the service of enhancing public attitudes and dialogue toward interstellar exploration. IRG intends to pave the way in building a technological, philosophical, and economic infrastructure that advances the goal of establishing outposts throughout the Solar System and, finally, achieving a pathway to the stars.
Though the original IRG concept was explicitly intended to be regional (viz., the American Southeast), it is now, in fact, an internationally recognized organization, with major speakers and attendees coming from all over the world. International participation has grown, for example, with the full involvement and support of the prestigious British Interplanetary Society, as well as the Initiative for Interstellar Studies and the International Space University.
IRG Symposia are opportunities for relaxed sharing of ideas in directions that will stimulate and encourage Interstellar exploration including propulsion, communications, and research. Why do we gather to discuss the challenges and opportunities of interstellar travel? Because we must. We are compelled by our nature to think positively about the future of humanity in a beautiful yet extremely hostile universe. Life on Earth is wonderful and we should do what we can to protect and preserve it here, but there is more. Among the billions of galaxies, stars and planets, we sense a call to explore. A call to disperse ourselves and settle a multitude of worlds in order to preserve and protect what must be very rare indeed: a bipedal species of intelligent tool-users who dare to dream, to love, to create and to aspire for more than mere survival. To do this, we must push boundaries and go. There are many challenges and some of them will take generations to overcome.
These efforts will take all of humanity. We need a unified effort. This will of course require scientists and engineers. But more than that it will take philosophers and artists and nurturing parents. We hope that one day we will see the great diversity that is the human race on the way to other planets and other stars. We invite all who are interested in using their talents to bridge the gap between here and our infinite future to join the IRG cause!