Scientists have long dreamed of interstellar travel and the potential boon of information it would give us (what's up, aliens?!?), but actually getting there in a reasonable amount of time has always been the biggest challenge. But in just 20 years from when they get their laser boosts, these guys -- packed with tiny onboard computers and a two-megapixel camera -- would reach their destination and begin collecting data and photos. It would then take another four or five years for us to receive what they're seeing (that's how long any transmission between us would take) but what's a few extra years when we're talking to something trillions of miles away.
So who is this random Russian guy anyway? Well, he's certainly no stranger to moonshot space plans. Just last year, the billionaire tech investor (who, coincidentally, was named after Yuri Gagarin, the first human to journey into space) poured $100 million into another ambitious project: the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. Of course, throwing gobs of money at something doesn't mean it's a sure thing that we'll actually see a trip to the stars happen in our lifetime, but Milner's got quite a team in place already to help steer things in the right direction. In addition to Hawking, he’s recruited Mark Zuckerberg to sit on the board of directors, and the project lead will be the former director of NASA's Ames Research Center. That's not to mention a large cast of other bold-name advisers including Nobel Prize-winning astronomers and even Carl Sagan's widow.