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The Space Gazette

Space for Everyone      -    September 3, 2002     -         Vol. 2 No.17

The Spacefaring Web 2.14:
Little Green Voters

John Carter McKnight

"Would ET Vote? The Likelihood of Extraterrestrial Democracy," a recent article by Doug Vakoch, sets out the proposition that "if we detect a signal from advanced extraterrestrials, there's a good chance that the basic principles of democracy play a role in their society."

While the article specifically addresses alien civilizations, its larger question is the one discussed regularly in this column: how might an enduring, technologically advanced spacefaring (or at least space-communicating) society be structured? Vakoch's article has some strong and provocative answers, particularly in discussing psychologist Albert A. Harrison's excellent book After Contact: The Human Response to Extraterrestrial Life. The two authors' valuable observations, though, are obscured by vagueness in several critical definitions, leading the article to an unsubstantiated conclusion. Don't expect little green men to be punching hanging chads. 


TVRO, Space Radio, Investing

A Space Hobby Creates
A Multi-Billion Dollar Space Industry

C-Band Pirates Opened Way to Satellite DTH

Model of Amateur Mars Probe

The big C-Band dishes (right) led the way to the
small digital direct-to-home (DTH) satellite TV industry in the US led by Hughes DirceTV and Echostar (left).

The primary goal of HobbySpace is to inform the public about the space hobbies and activities that are fun and also bring a sense of participation in space exploration and development to everyone.

An underlying theme of the site, however, goes much further and holds that these hobbies and activities are the seeds that will grow into space businesses and industries that will drive the creation of a spacefaring society.

Starting small is, afterall, the normal way that industries develop.

Personal computers, for example, started with electronics hobbyists in the 1970s, aircraft were invented by tinkerers like the Wright brothers, NASCAR began with Moonshiners racing in the Appalachian hillsides, and so forth.

Rocketry and space exploration concepts also began with hobbyists in their space societies in the 1920's and 1930's (see the History of Space Activism section.) In the post-War era, however, rockets and spacecraft development became totally dominated by huge missile programs and the Moon Race projects.

This top-down development of space meant the absence of any connection with " real people". Without organic growth from the bottom, space has not had a significant base of public participants and enthusiasts on which to build.

Unfortunately, the space activist movement, which probably consists of just 50-100 thousand people at best, has not focused on building up this core base of support. Instead, it has mostly followed the top-down paradigm of the Apollo period and sought to influence government policy in hopes that new space projects would be so exciting they would draw public interest and enthusiasm to them. This approach has failed.

Big Dishes lead to Small Dishes and a Very Big Business

While preparing for an appearance on a recent broadcast of David Livingston's The Space Show, I looked for an example of hobbyists creating a space industry to illustrate my belief that public participation is the key component to developing a genuine spacefaring society.

A great example turned out to be right here on the HobbySpace website. The TVRO (TV Reception Only) section describes the hobby of scanning satellite broadcasts with ones own satellite dish(es), especially in the heavily used C-Band part of the radio spectrum.

In the early 1980's people driving in the US countryside began to notice strange bowl shaped objects appearing on lawns and hillsides. About 3 meters wide, the dishes pointed blankly at the sky.

Tinkerers, hams and electronic hobbyists had begun the satellite TV revolution when they discovered how easy it was to pick off the signals intended for cable TV companies (and for miscellaneous other communications such as video conferences and other intra-company broadcasts of big corporations).

Distribution of TV programming via satellite had revolutionized the cable industry in the 1970's, allowing Hollywood and New York media centers to provide three or four dozen channels to the cable companies who previously could only obtain a handfull of channels via terrestrial transmissions. (See the Geostationary Satellite section of Space Investing and Cable TV History: The 1970s - CED Magazine.)

Initally, the home C-band receivers who were grabbing these programs were often treated as pirates. However, most of the receivers were in rural areas without access to cable TV. Eventually the number of C-band users reached well over a million in the US.

Seeing this large market, companes like Hughes and Echostar were motivated to begin their Ku band direct-to-home (DTH) TV satellite services that provided hiqh quality digital signals via small dishes of about half a meter wide.

Initially, they expected the rural areas to provide most of their market. However, soon many surburbanites, upset with bad service from their cable TV providers, began to subscribe to satellite TV, which also provided more channels than cable and sharper images. There are now almost 20 million DTH satellite TV subscribers in the US.

The number of C-band users has dropped to less than 700, 000 and is expected to continue to drop as more casual uses switch to the smaller dishes. Eventually C-band reception willl return to being of interest primarily to hobbyists (see the TVRO section.)

However, we can thank the C-band hobbyists for spawning the hugely successful DTH industry in the US. We hope to see many more such industries arise from space hobbies.

Other Space News and Links of Interest

More ISS Ham News: During the recent spacewalk, the astronauts succeeded in installing two new antennas. This will allow the activation of a second ham station on the ISS. Final Two Ham Antennas Installed Aboard Space Station - ARRLWeb - Aug.29.02

If Lance Bass ever gets the money to go to the ISS, he will take advantage of the Ham radio stations to communicate with fans on earth: Pop Star Lance Bass of 'N Sync Working with ARISS - ARRLWeb - Aug.29.02
Space Radio

SETI@Home Ramps Up : About half a million people regularly participate in the SETI@Home project to analyze radio observatory data looking for signals from intelligent life outside out solar system.

The program will expand soon to include data from an Australian observatory that looks at the southern hemisphere. Up till now the data came only from the Arecibo dish in Puerto Rico. This will mean about 10 to 15 times more data, eliminating the problem of not keeping all those computers out there busy.

SETI@home Spells Out Big Plans - Sky and Telescope - Aug.28.02

Space Tourist Campaigns for Science Education : Mark Shuttleworth, the second space tourist who traveled to the ISS in April of 2002, is working hard to attract more South African students to science and engineering:

Amatuer Astronomers are the Heros in New Book: Timothy Ferris, the well known science writer, has a new book out in which he profiles the accomplishments of amateur astronomers. In Seeing in the Dark: How Backyard Stargazers Are Probing Deep Space and Guarding Earth from Interplanetary Peril (Amazon commission link), Ferris looks at amateur comet hunters, planetary observers and others who have made significant discoveries.

Find previous space news in
Articles Index 1999-2002


See also  
Space Headlines
RLV News
News Links

Rocketry, Contests

Student Rocketeers Can Win Thousands of Dollars

The National Association of Rocketry (NAR) and the Aerospace Industries Association (AIA) are sponsoring a "national model rocket competition for U.S. high school and junior high school students."

The Team America Rocketry Challenge will challenge the students "to design, build, and fly a multi-stage model rocket carrying two raw eggs and an electronic altimeter to exactly 1500 feet, returning both eggs intact."

"The top five teams will share in a total prize pool of approximately $50,000 in savings bonds, and approximately $9,000 in cash awards will be divided among the sponsoring teachers' departments."

For the $160 entry fee the teams recieve an "Adept A1 electronic altimeter, a copy of the Apogee RockSim 5.0 computer design and flight simulation program, and a copy of G. Harry Stine's Handbook of Model Rocketry."

The application deadline is November 15, 2002.

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