Stephen Hawking and Russian billionaire Yuri Milner have just unveiled a $100 million philanthropic initiative to focus on space exploration and the search for life in the universe. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will also join Milner and Hawking on the board of Breakthrough Starshot.

Called Breakthrough Starshot, the project hopes to launch thousands of the tiny, light-propelled "nanocrafts" at speeds that would exceed 100,000,000 miles per hour---one thousand times faster than the fastest spacecraft today---using "Lightsails" and a phased array of lasers.

With the goal of reaching the "habitable zone" of our nearest neighboring star system, Alpha Centauri, in 20 years, these "nanocrafts" are gram scale wafers designed to carry cameras, photon thrusters, power supply, navigation and communication equipment.

If a single nanocraft makes it to Alpha Centauri, it would take an additional four years to transmit that information back to Earth.

According to Milner, this isn't just a pipe dream, however. He insists the technology is not far off.

“The Breakthrough concept is based on technology either already available or likely to be available in the near future,” Milner said. “But as with any moonshot, there are major hurdles to be solved.”

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