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Kickstarting the Future

We are living in the era of Kickstarter! Crowd funding is taking off for projects around the world and connecting people with ideas.  With micro-funding, masses of everyday people, giving small amounts of cash can fund innovations in areas as diverse as the arts, science and engineering.  I participated in the Kickstarter for Planetary Resource’s Arkyd telescope, which reached a total of over $1.5M.  As I am typing this the BLEduino Kickstarter just ended; $75,000 was raised for the $15,000 goal of creating a mini Arduino with built in Bluetooth 4.0. University of Michigan’s Project to build a prototype plasma thruster for interplanetary CubeSats is 15 days into its funding campaign and has raised 20% of their $200,000 goal.

In exchange for supporting these projects, not only do the donors get to take an active financial hand in advancing a project they care about, there are often physical rewards. Arkyd will be displaying my image in space and taking a photo. I also get a full year membership to the Planetary Society,  a T-shirt and a mission patch for $139.  For my $90 dollars donated to UofM’s CubeSat initiative, I’m getting thank you note laser etched on a solar cell, team T-shirt, mission patch and pen. BLEduino will be shipping me the very project I backed this November for my $34 contribution.

This emerging online system isn’t just for charity, it’s for making projects come to life.

COSMOS: Speaking of projects coming to life, It was just announced that Neil deGrasse Tyson will be hosting the reboot of Carl Sagan’s classic series Cosmos, on FOX. Enjoy the trailer.

ELON: PJ Media has put together a fun little video recapping SpaceX’s triumphs the last few years, and giving Elon Musk another chance to make the case for Mars.

Business and Science, The Future of SEDS

When you think of the kind of students a space club recruits, you probably imagine membership that is heavy on STEM, fields like engineers and geologists, astronomers and rocket scientists. If you looked at the make-up of Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, for the most part you would be right. In fact, what SEDS needs more than ever is a heavy dose of business majors, pre-law undergraduates and aspiring marketing professionals.

Why does SEDS need students from Sandra Day O’Connor, W. P. Carey and the Herberger institute? Isn’t SEDS all about inspiring the scientists and engineers, the people who will develop the technology that reaches beyond Earth? We all know the reason we don’t have a base on the Moon or a colony on Mars is because of a lack of advanced technology. Or is it?

Today every student walks around with a computer more advanced than what Buzz and Neil had in their capsule. NASA has had schematics for nuclear powered engines, engines that could take astronauts to Mars in a matter of months, since the 70’s. The life support systems onboard the ISS today would still be recognizable to the engineers of Apollo. A lack of technology is not holding us back.

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX l...

English: President Barack Obama tours SpaceX launch pad with CEO Elon Musk, at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The true log-jam holding back a flood of space development and exploration is economics. Elon Musk , founder of SpaceX, didn’t build a rocket company from the ground up because he had a revolutionary engine. What he had was a revolutionary business model, that instead of nestling subcontracts within subcontracts for rocket parts like Boeing and Lockheed, he would build everything in house. With this economic model his company ran so lean that in just a few short years he beat industry giants for NASA contracts so old they could have been called fossils.

Peter Diamandsis, who made his wealth as an Intel entrepreneur, understood humanity would never step beyond low earth orbit without an economic incentive. With the X-Prize Foundation he uses cash rewards to encourage competition in achieving technological goals such as landing a rover on the Moon and developing a handheld medical device that can diagnose medical issues like a live doctor. His company, Planetary Resources, is working to establish water and fuel depots from near Earth orbit asteroids, while also recovering their vast platinum group mineral wealth.

Each of these novel technologies, each of these steps into space, is wrapped in a business plan, marketed to the public or angel investors, and has teams of lawyers opening the frozen realms of space law. We need lawyers, who dream of space development, working to change restrictive laws that make private space ventures prohibitive. We need accountants and business people to take our engineering or science ideas and make them profitable and viable. We need marketing gurus to design our kickstarters and hunt out angel investors to fund our enterprises. In the end, we must boldly go where no SEDS-er has gone before, into the schools of law and business to seek out professionals and undergraduates passionate about the final frontier.


Sol -11 : Mars One

Did you hear that seductive and silky British voice tell you the same thing it told me? 2023! That sure is ambitious, dangerous, and difficult. It also is beautiful, inspiring, thought-provoking. Could we do this?

I would go, there is no doubt in my mind, and this fits Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX’s time frame too. Are we really considering this, this crazy wonderful dream? My mind is too blown right now to even give a really good write up of this company and its potentials and pitfalls. I’ll have to sleep on this and do some more research. I have to ask you though, wouldn’t it be beautiful if this was the beginning, if we could really say that humanity was now pushing for the stars, that it is happening in our life time and that we could participate in it?

What if ten years from now, the first Mars colonists were leaving earth to make a home on the red world? Don’t you want to be a member of a species capable of achieving that?

Perpetually in Awe. Todd.