Participation in the control of rovers
on the surface of the Moon has often been suggested
as a way to bring space exploration directly to the
public. This could involve students or paying participants
who would drive the rover as it explores new
areas on the Moon.
Initial attempts to create commercial
businesses, such as LunarCorp, around such rover proejcts
were not successful. However, in 2007 the Google
Lunar X PRIZE was announced and many of the teams
are planning to continue with commercial operations
if they succeed in puting a rover on the Moon.
A few grams of moon dust reportedly were
sold for $42,000 at an auction in the US in 1993.
Later a carat of moon rock returned by an unmanned Soviet
lunar mission in the 1970s sold for $442,000.
An auction of Space Memoribilia at Christies
on Sept. 18, 1999 included a nametag from Jim Irwin's
spacesuit that he wore on the Moon during Apollo 15.
The tag was impregnated with a small amount of moondust.
It was bought for $310,500.
Clearly, there is a market for samples
of the Moon, Mars and other heavenly bodies. Questions
always arise: How big is the market? Could the payoff
from this alone be big enough to pay for the trip with
some profit leftover? How to authenticate the samples?
The answer to the last question is the
easiest. Composition and isotopic analysis can
clearly tell Moon and Mars rocks apart from earth rocks
and from each other as well. The famous Mars meteorites,
that may contain traces of early Mars bacteria, were
identified this way. Similarly, meteorites from the
Moon were also identified this way and later confirmed
by the Apollo samples.
When the European explorers of the late
Middle Ages and Renaissance set out on their long, dangerous
voyages to the Far East, they were not seeking iron
or machines or other industrial goods. They were going
after fine ceramics, silks and spices.
These were high value goods that were
sold as luxuries to the royalty and the growing middle
Much of the current microgravity
research is aimed at developing industrial
type products such as ultra-pure semiconductor crystals
for electronics. This is important work and should continue
but perhaps there will be other, more exquisite products
I previously lived in Sweden where fine
crystals and beautiful blown glass artworks provide
a big business. It has made me wonder what a skilled
glass blower could come up with if he or she worked
on the International Space Station for a month. Perhaps
amazingly beautiful objects could be created in a craftshop
where gravity did not pull things apart before they
Also, without gravity to separate the
components by weight, strange alloys might emerge with
wonderful and bizarre properties - perfect for a talented
craftsman to transform into beautiful objets d'art to
sell to appreciative earthlings.
It will require artisans actually in space
with the time and materials to experiment over a prolonged
period to find out what marvels can be created there.
Nevertheless, one can still speculate. For example,
Highly reflective small metallic particles or
dust, perhaps of silver and gold, could be mixed
with a transparent material such as glass or plastic
while it was molten. On earth the metal particles
would percipitate to the bottom but in space they
would remain dispersed. This might result in a material
with unusual and beautiful optical qualities.
Similarly, if iron particles were used, the artisan
might be able to manipulate the distribution of
particles with a magnet.
If the materials for these artworks came
from the Moon, then the objects would be doubly unusual
Space art glass?
Aerogels are among the most unusual materials ever created.
These ultra-low density transparent substance are often
referred to as "frozen smoke". They are transparent
and 1000 times less dense than glass and with
a much lower index of refraction.
Though the lightest known solid, an aerogel can still
be quite strong - "A block the size of a human
weighs less than a pound, but is able to support
the weight of a subcompact car or about half a ton."
An aerogel is created by drying a gel in a manner that
removes the liquid without collapsing the structure.
The result is a foam-like material but with extremely
Ideally it should be almost perfectly transparent,
but when made on the ground it has a bluish haze. Tests
in microgravity indicate that the material is much
more transparent than that made on the ground. Supposedly
this is because the pores are more uniformly produced
without the effect of gravity.
The prime industrial applications of aerogel involve
its insulation properties, which are superior to any
For the space artisan, aerogel, or more likely the
easier to handle xerogel,
might be an ideal material:
Extremely light - obviously important with
respect to launch costs. Only small amounts of raw
material would be required to provide plenty of samples
with which to experiment.
Highly Transparent - this would make it a
nice base material within which to add other objects
or dispersed materials, e.g. an object inside a block
of aerogel sitting on a stand would appear to be floating
in the air.
One could imagine the artisan manipulating the material
in many ways such as coloring some sections and casting
it into different shapes just as is done with glass.
It reports on the work of Univ. of Missouri scientist
Delbert E. Day:
"If, as the initial results indicate and Day
is convinced, glass melted in zero gravity resists
crystallization, then setting up shop in space --
either as a full-force factory or even as an occasional
testing ground -- could forever transform glassmaking,
As I noted above, it is quite possible that artistic
glassmaking could take advantage of the different properties
of glass made in micro-g.
Since there is no sedimentation in mico-g, it may also
be possible to get interesting effects by mixing heavy
substances into the glass that would fall the bottom
if done on earth.
IsadoraModule.org - Richard Seabra proposed
this project to add an arts module to the International
Space Station. Visual artists, dancers, filmmakers,
artisans, and other creative people would visit the
station to experience Space and communicate their
impressions to the world in their own unique way.
Art- Paintings and illustrations
of Space themes have developed into a popular art
subculture. The creation of art actually in
Space, however, is still in development. Nevertheless,
a few sculpures and paintings have flown on Mir and
"George and Loretta Whitesides will be the first
couple to honeymoon in space on Richard Branson?’s
Virgin Galactic Spaceline. It will be a childhood
dream come true for both of them! Stop by regularly
for updates on how things are going."
A famous short story by Arthur C. Clarke, Wind
from the Sun, describes the drama of a solar
sail race. Serious development of the solar sail
concept began in the 1980s by JPL and others (see the
sail links). Unfortunately, no craft has
yet to fly despite advantages such as the elimination
Development of such propulsion could help amateur spacecraft
to explore the solar system. As discussed in the section
on Satellite Building,
many amateur and student satellites have been built and
launched with the low cost piggyback technique. However,
no amateur craft has yet to escape from earth orbit (e.g.
see the discussion in the Activism
section about the history
of the Lunar Prospector.)
If solar sail propulsion can be developed
as a low cost alternative to chemical or ion propulsion,
it may send the first amateur space probes into deep
Sail - Planetary Society & Cosmos Studios
The Planetary Society and the Cosmos Studios is funding
this project to launch a solar sail in late 2001. The
sail will be built by a Russian institute and launched
on a converted Russian submarine missile.
The sail will be a relatively small test vehicle meant
only to demonstrate the inflatable sail deployment and
to achieve some level of positive thrust from the Sun.
To commemorate the 500th anniversary of Columbus arriving
in the Americas, there was an effort in the late 1980's
to organize a competition among several privately funded
unmanned solar sail crafts in the US and with participation
of the Soviet Union.
Unfortunately, sufficient funding was not obtained.
However, such efforts will certainly continue. The Russian
effort, in fact, continued as shown by this site
The recent Russian Space Mirror (which unfortunately
failed to deploy properly) project was carried out by
members of this Russian Regatta consortium. Similar
thin foil materials are needed for both the mirrors
and solar sails. An earlier
mirror in Feb, 1993 did in fact deploy.
Science fiction has long speculated on the various
fun activities people could experience in space. Zero-g
and low gravity offer many possibilities. For example,
the long held human dream to fly simply by flapping
a set of artificial wings could actually be accomplished
on the moon if your lunar station had a large enclosed
airspace. One can also easily imagine transforming various
ballgames from 2D to 3D.
space colonies could provide the whole range of
recreational activities. The centrifugal force provides
simulated gravity along the inner rim so the usual earth
sports are possible (although with interesting Coriolis
effects on ball trajectories!) As one moves inwards
towards the axis, human powered flight becomes possible
until eventually the microgravity at the axis would
allow for all sorts of 3D games.
As space tourism
matures from the simple quick jaunt into orbit to longer
excursions, space hotels will be developed. The first
ones will probably not provide for such artificial gravity.
Thus even for short stays of a week or so it will be
important to exercise to avoid loss of muscle mass and
bone density. However, I would bet that this exercise
will be disguised as various strenuous games and sports
This reality style program will involve athletes competing
in a US football inspired game within a weightlessness
environment provided initially by parabolic flights
and later in an orbital facility. The company IPX
Entertainment began casting for participants in
early 2006. The company ZERO
Gravity will provide the parabolic flights.
Various companies are offering rides on airplanes that
follow parabolic trajectories that give periods of a few
minutes of microgravity on the downward slopes. These
are the types of aircraft that astronauts and cosmonauts
have long trained on.
in Space Science Challenge Richard
Garriott, the Challenger Center and former pro football
player Ken Harvey worked together on this educational
project in which they will compare the same sports actions
on the ground versus in-space during Garriott's trip
to the ISS.
Miles O'Brien reports on the
Racing League exhibition at the Tulsa Air Show on
April 24, 2010 in which two X-Racers flew simultaneously.
This futuristic concept moved a big step closer to
reality at the Tulsa Air Show on April 24, 2010. Two
X-Racers flew simultaneously under the powered of rocket
engines built by Armadillo
Founders Peter Diamandis and Granger Whitelaw first
announced the formation of the Rocket
Racing League (RRL) on October 3rd, 2005. The project
struggled to get off the ground for several years. The
first demonstration flight was with an XCOR powered
vehicle at the Oshkosh Air Show in 2008. The RRL later
decided to go with the Armadillo engine and a different
airframe. New management took over the RRL in 2009 and
they set a course for a series of exhibitions in 2010,
leading to the first races in 2011.
The modified EZ-Long kit plane is powered by two 400
thrust XCOR Aerospace engines. The success of this prototype
vehicle helped to inspire the RRL. XCOR
PRIZE Cup - a follow-on program to the X PRIZE
in which rocket vehicle teams compete in annual or
bi-annual contests of various sorts. Rocket racing
will eventually become a regular part of this event.
Ed Wright of X-Rocket
(Experimental Rocket Racing Organization) presented
a proposal for rocket racing at the Space
Frontier Conference 9 in October 2000. He thought
it could follow the example set by the airplane
racing events in the pre-WW II era that had a big
impact on advancing aviation technology.
The events would consist of suborbital manned rocket
vehicles that would perhaps compete in vertical
drag races. However, the events would probably
not consist of two craft flying simultaneously against
each other but rather one at a time against the
The development and successful series of tests
flights of XCOR's
EZ-Rocket made the possibility of rocket powered
vehicle events more plausible. The vehicle was a
modified version of the EZ-Long kit plane but instead
of a propeller engine, it's kicked along by two
400lb thrust engines. The vehicle was intended as
a testbed to develop safe, reusable, and low cost
rocket technology and has now more or less completed
X- Rocket, the Experimental Rocket Racing Association,
released a press
release in July 28, 2001 declaring that
the EZ-Rocket would tour the airshow circuit in
2002. However, such a tour didn't take place for
financial and regulatory hangups.
Here are some
other speculations and resources on possible new space
related hobbies and activities.
Deep Space Amateur Spacecraft
So far, the AMSAT
Phase 3 satellites, which travel in highly elliptical
Molyna orbits, have achieved the highest altitudes for
amateur satellites. No amateur satellites have reached
geostationary orbit, much less escape velocity.
The sophistication of the AMSAT satellites, however,
indicate that a deep space vehicle is well within the
capabilities of an AMSAT group. A amateur probe to the
Moon is quite feasible and even to Mars.
A nanosat, e.g. a Cubesat,
with a modest kick engine should be able to hitch a
ride on an Ariane 5 and achieve sufficient velocities
to escape earth.
Communication over such distances would be a challenge
for amateurs but not an insurmountable one, especially
to the moon. For example, amateur
radio astronomers and SETI
enthusiasts know how to pick up weak signals. Perhaps
even the proposed fields of cheap home satellite TV
dishes proposed for SETI could be borrowed for a Mars
Mass Market Satellites
What if putting a small satellite into space only cost
a few hundred dollars? The
Signtific Lab is a site where collaborative tools
are used to carry out "Massively Multiplayer Thought
Experiments". Its first experiment was called "Free
Space" and examined the potential of CubeSats
to allow large numbers of individuals to participate
directly in space activities:
a global collaborative research platform created
to identify and facilitate discussion around future
disruptions, opportunities and trends in science and
technology. Signtific is completely open, easy to use,
and accessible to anyone. The project is designed to
leverage the growing network of science and technology
experts and grassroots enthusiasts across the globe
through collaborative physical and virtual workshops
and engaging collaborative forecasting games. Signtific
invites scientists, engineers, designers, researchers,
technologists and creative thinkers from any discipline
to participate in discussing, dissecting and discovering
both nascent and time tested ideas that will shape our
Hobby robotics is a growing hobby with amateurs and
students building increasingly sophisticated devices.
These include robots built from scratch but also commercial
robots intended for consumer use that allow for upgrades
and easy modifications.
section in the Tech Links section lists a
number of such projects and products.
As access to space and near
space becomes cheaper we will see hobbyists
and students using robotics and AI techniques to increase
the capabilities of high altitude payloads (e.g. see
project) and amateur satellites.
Robotics section includes some university
projects. As more such projects appear, a dedicated
space hobby robotics section will be warranted.
[This topic was suggested by HobbySpace
reader Kaido Kert.]