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Future Public Space
Speculations on future space hobbies, activities,
services, & products for the public

David Hardy's vision of space tourists enjoying
water sports on a space station. Credits: AstroArt

We discuss here some possible space hobbies and public activities of the future. New ones will be added as they are dreamed up.

News & Articles of Interest

See the archive for previous articles...

Future News, Blogs, etc.

Rovers - Remote Controlled Explorers

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.

More Rover Resources

Collecting Space Rocks

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.

Meteorite collecting has also become a booming business (see the meteorite subsection of Collecting Space.)

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.

Continue to the space rocks page for further info and discussion...

Space Arts & Crafts

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 class.

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 from microgravity.

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 cooled.

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 and valuable...

Lunar Appropriate Art Media Pioneers - L.A.A.M.P. at Lunar Reclamation
Peter Kokh has been working on concepts for lunar development since the 1980's. He has looked extensively at the possibilities of using lunar materials for arts and crafts.

He has experimented, for example, with paints created from materials similar to those on the Moon: Lunar Painting Experiment

Aerogel: 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 small "pores".

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 other material.

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.

For more info about aerogels see:

Glass Making in Microgravity
Glass making in microgravity offers the potential for a number of applications according to this article: Glass from Space: NASA-supported researchers have discovered that glass formed in space has remarkable properties. - Science@NASA - Apr.14.03.

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, scientists said."

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.


More resources

Space Fashion

Cosmic Fashion Show in Japan - October 2008

Space Weddings & Honeymoons


Solar Sailing

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 solar sail links). Unfortunately, no craft has yet to fly despite advantages such as the elimination of fuel.

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 space.

Solar 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.

SailAway R/D Project
InterWorld Transport is developing a low cost solar sail to be launched by the JP Aerospace high altitude amateur rocket. Check out their solar sail simulation project.

Space Regatta
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.

More Space Sail Links

Space Recreation

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.

Gerard O'Neill's giant spinning 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 activities.

Space Champions
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.

Microgravity Experiences
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.
Space Sports at Space Future
As part of its large section devoted to Space Tourism, the Space Future site discusses possible sports that could be played in space. These include zero-g ball games and 3-D water sports. A detailed description of a Zero-g Gymnasium is given. See also the section on other activities in zero-g.

Sports 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.

Space Diving
See space diving in Near Space section.
Recreation & Tourism - Artemis Project (Membership required)
Resources gathered by the Artemis lunar project group about space tourism and recreation.

Lunar Skiing
The lunar surface is slick enough that skiing, or something quite similar to it, looks to be feasible.


More resources

Rocket Racing

Miles O'Brien reports on the Rocket 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 Aerospace.

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.

More resources:


Articles & Updates:

History and other Rocket Racing Resources

EZ-Rocket piloted by Dick Rutan

The modified EZ-Long kit plane is powered by two 400 lb
thrust XCOR Aerospace engines. The success of this prototype
vehicle helped to inspire the RRL. XCOR Photo.

  • X 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 clock.

    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 its mission.

    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.

  • Henry Vanderbilt gave background information on the origins of the rocket racing concept in this Comment at RLV & Space Transport News - Oct.3.05.
  • At the Space Access Society April 2003 Meeting, Ed Wright presented plans for a Rocket Academy, where participants would go through a two week training regime and then ride an Archangel vehicle to 50km in altitude.

  • Air Racing: for comparison, here is information on air racing

More Speculation
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 amsat.


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:

Signtific Lab is a project of the Institute For The Future (IFTF), which is an "independent, nonprofit research group with over 40 years of forecasting experience" in "identifying emerging trends and discontinuities that will transform global society and the global marketplace". Recently, the IFTF announced the formation of the Signtific program: IFTF Launches Global Collaborative Research Platform for Science & Technology - IFTF - Mar.6.09. Signtific is intended as

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 future.


Space Robotics Hobbies
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.

The Robotics 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 this glider project) and amateur satellites.

The Space 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.]

More resources


The Art of C. Sergent Lindsey






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