Crowd-Funding Exploration

I was talking to my friend Alan Stern the other day. We both worked at the same lab at the University of Colorado and had the same advisor when we were in grad school.  If you don’t know about Alan, Google him sometime. He’s packed a lot of experience into his life, and is probably one of the most energetic and forward-thinking people I know.  Even talking quietly over his mobile phone so he wouldn’t wake up the rest of his family, Alan radiated energy.

So, what’s got Alan excited these days?  One word: Uwingu.  It’s the Swahili word for “the sky”, and the name of a new project called the Uwingu Fund  that he and a group of friends started. What the team wants to do is crowd-source space exploration and science research that is deserving of funding, but isn’t getting it in these days of austere budgets. “We want this to be a “gate fund” for space,” he said.  “There’s nothing else like it. We’re selling something of broad interest around the world and the dollars will go toward space exploration.  We’re hoping to do something transformational.”

Uwingu Fund lets people donate money in exchange for “perks”.  The funds they share will be used in as a “private sector” funding mechanism that could bring millions or tens of millions of dollars annually for space projects of all kinds.  For example, it will provide grants to people who propose meritorious projects in space exploration, space research, or space education. As Alan puts it some of the money will be used to fund people as projects. “It’s a very different way to fund research from the past. It’s a very 21st-century model,” he said. “It will be peer-reviewed, just as other science grant proposals are. We’ll have review panels to help select the deserving projects.”

The idea was seeded by Alan’s experiences at NASA, his involvement with the New Horizons mission (which will reach Pluto in three years), and, more recently, by a series of “bake-sale” and “car wash” and “shoe shining” type fundraisers he spurred.  “People would come up to me at those events and ask me, ‘what can I do to help?’,” Alan mused.

He pointed out what many of us have known for years but somehow gets missed by the media and the political elites: that many, many people across all walks of life ARE interested in space exploration and science, and they want to be a part of it.  Maybe they don’t all get to be astronauts, but they get to know that something they contributed to is making science good. For example, many folks have their names embedded on a microchip that went to Mars onboard on the Curiosity rover.  I sent MY name in, and it gives me a little frisson of wonder each time I think about it.  And, as I pointed out in another entry here, it only cost me $7.00 in taxes for that whole mission. Not a bad return on investment, and a heck of a lot healthier (mentally and physically) than a deep-fried meal at a fast-food joint.

I like Alan’s idea and I’ll be getting involved. As I mentioned above, Uwingu Fund is offering perks, just as other crowd-sourcing sites do. And, I’ll happily take a perk. But, for me, the biggest perk will be seeing some worthwhile science get funded that would have otherwise been ignored in the science-unfriendly political environment we face today. We need science to move forward, both as individuals and as a species.  And Uwingu Fund is a way to help that happen. It’s is new, it’s just getting started, but I do think that the group behind it will achieve great things and help others to do the same. So, check it out and get in on moving us forward.


Welcome to this week’s Carnival of Space

And, welcome to my humble blog.  This week, my science-writer colleagues and I have multiple servings of tasty cosmic carnival fare for your delectation and intellectual curiosity. So, grab a brass ring, a refreshing beverage (more on that in a minute), and let’s get started down the space midway!

First into the center ring is Astropixie, with an a look at Determining Redshifts, a quick peek at how astronomers figure out just how far away things are in the universe. Amanda Bauer takes you step-by-step through the ways that astronomers determine distances in the cosmos.

Life in a Martian meteorite? Jury's still out on this one, but it begs the question about life's precursors. Courtesy NASA.

Next, the folks at Cheap Astronomy from Canberra, Australia, weigh in with a pair of podcasts about alien biology The first talks about the role that water plays in the formation and sustenance of life. The second makes the case for carbon as the basis for life, particularly on our planet. If you’ve ever wondered about the chemical basis for life on Earth, these make a good introductory listen.

Parallel Spirals explores the publication of information about the recent Chandrayaan water discovery mission idea a bit more in Hubble Supports Chandrayaan Water Discovery. The formal science paper about how Hubble Space Telescope confirmed the presence of water on the Moon while looking at the LCROSS impact site will be published very soon.

Over at Steve’s Astro Corner, in On the Horizon What is the Next Big Thing? Steve Tilford brings you a look the technologies for exploration outlined in the Decadal Survey for Astronomy and Astrophysics. If it all gets built and funded, we’ll be studying everything from dark energy to the warm, dusty universe that will seen by the James Webb Space Telescope.

The future is also the subject of an essay called Population Limits of the earth and the solar system factoring in improved technology over at Next Big Future. It’s about how the modern issues of how much population Earth can support (reasonably) and the growth of technological power and knowledge. Can we put these two together to optimize our chances for the human population of space? Head over and find out!

Materials science and understanding the effect of vacuum and thermal friction on rotating particles may be very relevant to astronomers as they seek to understand cosmic nanoparticles such as interstellar dust and the optical spectra of rotating molecules.  This is the subject of a short blog entry called Vacuum has friction from an effect similar to the casimir effect,  also available at Next Big Future.

Alexi Leonov, Soviet cosmonaut during his spacewalk. Courtesy

If the past is present, then it’s important that we understand the history of space exploration. At  Vintage Space, you can read an historical flash from the past in an article called Landings, NASA, and the Soviet Space Program, that explores the Soviet methods of getting astronauts safely back to Earth.

This week’s flashy news story (that turned out to be all mainstream-media handwaving, smoke and mirrors) about a Jupiter-like planet in the outer recesses of our solar system is Weirdwarp’s subject of discussion in Jupiter-like Planet Lurking Just Outside our Solar System is Extremely Unlikely. Guest poster Andrei (from ZMEScience) is a more sane and rational look at what the stories REALLY should have been about.

Next Big Future also presents a reasoned look at the outer solar system planet story in Tyche Planet X is still just a theory. Find out about the scientific paper by two respected scientists who posit the reasons why some long-period comet trajectories seem to have their comets coming from the wrong direction. Here’s your chance to go “behind the scenes” of a story that the MSM didn’t quite get right.

Nancy Atkinson at Universe Today talks with astronomer and planet hunter Mike Brown about that hypothetical giant planet lurking at the edge of the solar system to get his take on Tyche in About That Giant Planet Possibly Hiding in the Outer Solar System.

This week’s OTHER flashy news story, which covers events closer to Earth, turned out to be quite fascinating. It was the news about the Stardust-NExT mission to Comet Tempel-1.  I talk about the mission in a pair of back-to-back entries called Waiting for Tempel-1, written on “flyby night” and The Face of a Comet, posted the next day after some of the first images had been made public.

The COR1 coronagraph on the STEREO mission. Courtesy NASA.

At the center of our solar system, the Sun just keeps pumping out energy. Over at Vega 0.0, Francisco Sevilla writes about how coronagraphs enable astronomers to study the outer structures of the Sun’s superhot atmosphere. (Note the page is in Spanish, but you can translate using Google toolbar.)

Note: due to a software glitch, Astroblog’s entry didn’t make it in by the time I posted this. So, here is Ian Musgrave’s entry called The Kepler Bonanza: Making Sense of over 1,200 Extrasolar Worlds. Enjoy!

Over at Science Backstage, Italian science blogger and physicist Gianluigi Filippelli gives us a little “scientific baseball card” with important stats about the Sun and how it works.

Beer made from barley grains descended from barley that spent five months on the Zvezda Service Module on the International Space Station.

Finally, I mentioned a tasty beverage at the top of this entry. In that spirit, let’s raise a toast to National Geographic’s Breaking Orbit blog for its entry Space Beer Ready for Tasting.  It’s about Australia’s 4 Pines Brewing Company and its human experiment involving tasting beer that is meant for drinking on commercial space flights. Find out why some beers you may like here on the ground wouldn’t be so great in space.

That’s it for this week’s Carnival of Space. As you can see, there are many and talented writers who blog each day about astronomy, space science, and all the topics related to these.  If you like what you see, visit their blogs and let the authors know what you think!

Thanks for dropping by and keep looking up!