The American defence department's research wing, DARPA, has awarded $500,000 to form the 100 Year Starship initiative and help make interstellar travel a reality.
Former NASA astronaut Mae Jemison, who flew on the Space Shuttle Endeavour in 1992, will head the new independent organisation that will strive to turn Star Trek from fiction into something resembling fact.
The goal is to bring all sorts of disciplines together, from engineers to philosophers, to design a spacecraft that could set off to carry people to the stars within the next hundred years.
But not many realise, perhaps, that this ambitious project has its roots in a futuristic concept called Project Daedalus that was set up by the British Interplanetary Society way back in the 1970s.
It was no pie in the sky either. The team of scientists and engineers that conceived and designed Daedalus was led by Alan Bond, the space genius behind the exciting, reusable spaceplane Skylon being developed by Reaction Engines.
The result of their deliberations was a huge rocket that would be built in orbit, powered by nuclear fusion and sent to reach Barnard's Star, just 5.9 light-years away and then thought to have planets.
Daedalus, a two-stage vehicle weighing around 54,000 tonnes, was designed to accelerate to 16 per cent of the speed of light, controlled by computers and carrying an array of probes and sensors. The journey would still take 50 years, though that beats the 100,000 years needed for a voyage using current rocket technology.
How Daedalus would stack up against St Paul's Cathedral, London. Credit: Adrian Mann
There was flexibility in the plans to allow the spaceship to be directed to other targets if a better one was found. Scientific research was taken to account with optical and radio telescopes on board to make observations that could be radioed back to Earth.
The BIS have followed up on Daedalus with a new project, Icarus Interstellar, which is looking again at how to design a probe to the stars.
Meanwhile, Dr Jemison is full of confidence about the 100YSS project that has won DARPA investment. She said: "Yes, it can be done. Our current technology arc is sufficient.
"100 Year Starship is about building the tools we need to travel to another star system in the next hundred years. We're embarking on a journey across time and space. If my language is dramatic, it is because this project is monumental. This is a global aspiration. And each step of the way, its progress will benefit life on Earth."
Daedalus departs the Solar System. Credit Adrian Mann
The 100YSS website says that programs to establish a human presence on the moon, Mars, or elsewhere in our solar system will be stepping-stones to the stars.
And it adds: "A venture to the stars will require the creation of revolutionary energy generation, storage and control systems, advanced propulsion systems, radical advancements in closed-loop, life-support systems, and new insights into human development, health, behavior and training, as well as advances in robotics, automation, intelligent systems, and manufacturing techniques."
Just the sort of ideas that the brains behind Project Daedalus were considering more than 30 years ago.