Category Archives: DIY Space

For those interested in doing things for space, rather than reading about it.

DIY Space: Do You Have Room in Your Life for PocketSpacecraft?

First Earth, then the moon, and finally, the Universe! Are you thinking what I’m thinking Pinky? Image from

“If at first you don’t succeed…”–this is the spirit that is guiding the people conducting the activities at  They originally tried to get their “Mission to the Moon” project funded last year with Kickstarter, but didn’t get the funding level required there. The Mission to the Moon would’ve given lots of people the opportunity to send their very own spacecraft to the moon.  Exciting, right? Except that the money didn’t come in. Such a situation might have discouraged a few people.  And yet, here they are at PocketSpacecraft, still attempting to get more people to become crazy about space operations.

One of the lessons a person learns early in life is that while failures are unpleasant, the way someone reacts to that failure says a lot about the character and ethic driving that person. Instead of taking the easy way out by throwing up hands and walking away, huddling in the corner to cry, or just throwing a tantrum and then just sitting there blaming everyone else, there’s a lot to be said for that anguished shout, that hysterical laugh, or that resigned shrug which is then followed by tenaciously trying to keep a project and people moving towards success.

The latter seems to be the defining characteristic of the people behind  Not only are they carrying on their mission as if nothing kicked them in the guts with Kickstarter, they’re still pursuing the Mission to the Moon, and they’d like your help, moneywise. There are all sorts of funding levels they’ve listed on their site, here (near the bottom of the page). But the fun really begins at the 99 GBP (Pounds Sterling) funding level, where an “Earth Scout” spacecraft is launched into the Earth’s orbit, then attempts to land back on Earth.

The highest level of 5000 GBP is no longer available, but for a mere 1 GBP less, you could gain the title of “Rocket Scientist” with all the perks that entails.  Those would be delivered sometime in December 2014. Of course, an interested individual can start for as little as 9 GBP.  But you won’t get your very own spacecraft.  Any old how, at worst, you’ll just have “a universe” of fun.

DIY Space: Space Travel Grants are Go!

Image from

Citizens of Earth:  for as little as $15 you can apply to fly in a rocket ship of your choice.  How?  It’s all thanks to your money, and an inspired program from the people you are giving the money to–Spaceship Earth Grants (SEG).  From the middle of last September, until the end of this year (Dec 31, 2014), you can fill out a form and pay for the chance to ride into space.  The payment price goes as high as $90, but when you consider the lowest ticket to ride, offered by XCOR Aerospace, will eventually be $95,000, you might consider that a bargain.  But XCOR might not be the company you choose for your rocket flight.  Remember, you get to choose which rocket company’s rocket you wish to fly out into space.

There are other, more expensive options than XCOR.  Virgin Galactic comes immediately to mind.  But the thing to remember is that none of the passenger rocket companies are operating commercially yet, and only Virgin Galactic seems to be testing an actual piloted commercial space vehicle right now.  That will change next year, hopefully.  Perhaps the companies will have fielded their rockets just in time for the final phase of the award.

The rules for applying are fairly straightforward and not too onerous.  You do have to be 18 years or older to apply.  But the opportunity to apply seems quite open–they’ll even let you fill out your application in six languages other than English.  Just go here, to see some of the rules, and then click on the link on the page for more rule detail.  One thing to keep in mind is that even though you might win the ticket to ride, American rocket companies have to comply with very tough government rules regarding the intermingling of foreigners and space technology.  The rules are so strict that American companies for this contest might not have or make rockets available to foreigners for a ride.

The application process is basically the first of a four phase process.  By the fourth phase, which starts and ends on April 15, 2015, SEG will announce the lucky soon-to-be astronaut (or spaceship passenger for those picky readers).  Even if you don’t win, if you’re one of the first 5,000 applicants, you’ll have a 1 in 100 chance to get a free ride on a “vomit comet”–an airplane that flies a particular flight profile to help simulate free-fall.

There are a few other application perks, and you can read about them all, here.  As to how reliable the SEG is, they are backed by the Buckminster Fuller Institute.  Will you pay money for the chance to ride to space?


DIY Space: Operate a Very Expensive Backhoe


Not quite like this–but it would be cool if it were…

I worked with some plumbing fellows this last year to remove some huge amounts of dirt to get at our very clogged up house waste line.  One of the pieces of equipment we used to remove the dirt was a very small, but effective, backhoe.  They let me help them with the backhoe occasionally (when I wasn’t just shoveling).  I actually enjoyed operating the backhoe.  So when I first played this Canadian Space Agency (CSA) Canadarm2 simulator, I actually felt a little bit at home with it, once I settled in.

Now I know the simulator is not intended to train future backhoe operators, but it actually works a lot, at least in the simulator, like a backhoe.  The controls for moving the arms around the axes, even though they are on the keyboard, remind me of the different controls for axes on a backhoe.  And just like when using a backhoe, there is a very big safety factor that needs to be considered when operating a huge mechanical arm around people and equipment.  Although admittedly, the equipment being moved around the International Space Station (ISS), where the Canadarm2 is mounted, is probably more expensive than the plumber’s truck.

The simulator is somewhat fascinating, especially if an operator treats it like the real deal.  There’s a very annoying music soundtrack, which can thankfully be turned off.  If this is evidence of current Canadian musical tastes, then maybe it’s a good thing they aren’t storming the entertainment world right now?  Give me Bryan Adams or Alanis any day instead of that (good lord, did I just say that?).  But that said, the simulator will start you off with a few practice runs on general movement.  It does help in this case to read the directions instead of jumping in, because the controls, at least as they’re being taught, aren’t intuitive.

After practice, you’re off and running.  There’re three different camera views to allow you to see just how you’re moving the arm.  I’m assuming that’s similar to the set up in real life on the ISS.  There are only two tasks you need to do.  If you’re a superstar pro at this stuff and you successfully complete both tasks, then you can just enable “smug mode” for the rest of the day.  Or just understand there are backhoe operators around the world who will probably do this so quickly that your “smug mode” gets disabled.

As for the plumbing problem at my house:  we had to dig 14 feet down, making a hole about 15 feet in diameter.  The problem was an eight inch clay pipe that had cracked and was filled with roots.  Digging and refilling the hole probably took about eight hours with people like me not familiar with the backhoe.  But it certainly made things easier and quicker.  I can’t imagine that making such a big hole with shovels only would’ve taken the same amount of time.  Technology is our friend.

By the way, if you don’t have it installed, you do need to install Unity on your browser to play the game.

DIY Space: Ardusat

Image from Ardusat.

Before I begin the fairly short DIY part, this is just a reminder for those who don’t know, or just plain forgot.  Today is the anniversary of Sputnik I, the first man-made satellite, which was launched into orbit on the top of an R-7 rocket from Baikonur Cosmodrome. The R-7 had already been successfully tested as a missile earlier, on August 21, 1957.  That test demonstrated the R-7 to be the world’s first intercontinental ballistic missile as it flew the 3,700 miles to hit a target near the Kamchatka Peninsula.

Artist’s conception of Sputnik I in orbit. Image from Wikimedia, posted by Gregory R. Todd.


However, the nosecone system designed to protect the nuclear payload  had failed during that test.  In September, another R-7 basically did the same thing again, but this time the nosecone worked as designed.  In spite of the historical and strategic significance of the missile tests, the West didn’t really bat an eyelid.  It only reacted once Sputnik was launched into orbit.  If you wish to read a really great story about the origins, development, and launch of Sputnik, I recommend Matthew Brzezinski’s “Red Moon Rising.”  It does a great job of humanizing the Soviet Chief Engineer, Sergei Korolev.  Sputnik I was always Korolev’s goal, but the missile program helped him get there.  The story shows the Soviet Union’s rocket development efforts in contrast to the antics going on in the United States at the time.

Also, Sputnik’s anniversary kicks off the start of “World Space Week” for 2014.  For those interested, please go to the website, which is full of good information.

Back to DIY, though.  If you’re a teacher who believes the classroom needs more hands on with space projects, this might be the key, depending on your resources.  Ardusat wants to bring satellite building into the classroom.  They offer a few kits, and according to this post, the cost of the kits is as low as $2,500.  The kits use a Spire (formerly Nanosatisfi) Cubesat bus and, of course, an Arduino (What!  You don’t know what an Arduino is??!!  Go here to find out).  It also includes a few sensors and wires.  There’s more to their kits, but you can go to this part of their website to find out, if you’re curious.

If you and your students have an idea for an Ardusat experiment, then just go this part of Ardusat’s site and sign up for their Association of Space Explorers Astrosat Challenge.  You can sign up until October 30, 2014.  The prize?  One week’s worth of data from an on-orbit satellite.


DIY Space: Eyes On NASA

NASAs Eyes

There are several great tools available online designed to educate the public about space discoveries.  The best ones use data gathered by our space faring machines and help put it all into an understandable form.  Which is why NASA has developed the “NASA’s Eyes” program.

NASA’s Eyes is a program that can be used for multiple uses regarding virtual planetary exploration and understanding.  The program can be downloaded from this link.  It is a good tool to use to help in our understanding of some of the things going on here on Earth, too.  Honestly, the more I play with this particular program, the more I like it.  There’s a lot of data NASA has collected over the years about a lot of things, and it’s great that I can look at it in this form and play around with it.

NASAs Eyes Grav

Gravity map of the Earth. Note the GRACE satellites on the left side.

There are three primary topics of the NASA’s Eyes exploration tool.  “Eyes on the Earth” focuses on the Earth, the Earth’s environment, characteristics, the satellites looking at the Earth, and the payloads on the satellites used to gather data all about the Earth.  You can load what NASA calls “datasets,” data about a particular topic, such as ocean salinity, that’s been put together over the years.  The dataset then is displayed to show some interesting characteristics about things we take for granted, like gravity (image above).

NASAs Eyes Kepler

Eyes on the Solar System” has different kinds of datasets you can play with, but instead of the Earth, you can generally explore the Solar System.  There are different missions you can focus on, and see in great detail.  The Cassini mission (below)  around Saturn is pretty nifty.

NASAs Eyes Cassini

If you do get tired of the planets in our Solar System, there’s always the opportunity to look beyond, which is what the third set of datasets, called “Eyes on Exoplanets,” allows you to do.  Whether you wish to see exoplanets up close or just zoom out to admire the beauty of the galaxy we live in (below), Eyes on Exoplanets will help you.

Have a great time exploring space and please don’t forget to send a postcard :-).