I've spent the last few days reading the Omni Magazines from 1978 and 1979. All of them in fact. I'm struck by something: we're still talking about most of these same ideas as things for the future...
In those magazines, there are spaceships in your garage. Critisisms of NASA's inability to attract a younger crowd. Ray Kurzwell is talking Singularity before he called it that. You know, we'll live forever if we can just live long enough. Moon mining is just a few years away. In 1978.
As someone who was pre grade school during those two years, I'm a little tired of hearing the same story being told over and over.
"Our project will start in just two to three years" they always seem to be saying.
We'll get the same results if we keep doing the same thing, but that's not really what we all want is it? Don't we want something bigger?
It's pretty obvious these days that the hey day of the American Space program is way behind us. No amount of pleading, lobbying, or rhetoric is likely to change this. The rest of the world doesn't seem poised for much better either. Sorry folks, but that's where we are.
So what's a wanna be space explorer to do?
One solution is to explore space with a small team on a small budget. Thanks to the drastic drop in electronics prices and a concerted effort to make multiple cheap launch solutions available to anyone with a few hundred thousand dollars, it is easier to launch your own space mission today than it has ever been.
Got 300 dollars? (that's not a typo). You can get started for just 300 bucks. My local HAM radio club even went in on one of these. At 100 members, that's 3 bucks each to have something in space. If you can afford an overpriced coffee, you can get something into space.
Just think about that for a second.
I know it's a small mission to send a postage sized circuit into space that sends out a very short message, but it IS a mission to space for a few days.
Successful missions on a small budget have several upsides.
First, you're doing real exploration. YOU are doing it.
Second, doing meaningful research on a small budget helps potential investors (and don't rule out the government here) get comfortable with easing into an industry long thought too expensive and much too risky to take seriously in the past. Just ask Dave Masten what small teams can do with relatively small amounts of money. Big, big things.
There have been hundreds of "amateur" missions over the years. From communications satellites to scientific research, people all over the world are building exploration systems.
So where is one to start?
- nasa challenges
- Join a Google Lunar X PRIZE Team
- Find a local hackerspace
- Find a participatory exploration project to join
Even better, you can create your own project. Launch a balloon, build a rover, create a high speed wireless network, go get your HAM license. DO SOMETHING other than watch other people tell you about what they will be exploring "in just a few years".
Your time is right now.
What are you waiting for? If you want to be a real life Captain Kirk, you're going to have to go out there and make it happen yourself.
And don't forget to tell us about your awesome project!