As a kid I was something of a trekkie. Every time Star Trek was on TV I’d tune in, and wish I was the one sitting in the captain’s chair and wearing the snazzy uniform instead of James T. Kirk. I wanted to be the pioneer who would explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one had gone before.
There was a hitch, though: I grew up in the middle of the English countryside – about as far from the Starship Enterprise as you could get. Space was something for governments and private companies, not English farmboys. And so one day, I grew up, put my childish dreams aside and took a job in real estate marketing.
Silsuit: A prototype Martian space suit
Aiming to enhance future space suits, Silsuit improves current designs by improving mobility, reducing bulk, cost and manufacturing complexity by use of mechanical pressure and experimenting with different designs, materials and manufacturing techniques.
Hackerspace Earthship: an underwater simulated space habitat
The Hackerspace Earthship is a closed cycle habitat for one person. Modern LEDs, microcontrollers, sensors, and other technologies will be used to upgrade legacy hardware and miniaturize it as much as possible. The project seeks to use technology to mimic nature’s processes in a confined space similar to the sizes found in current and planned space habitats. Each hardware module will also be useful on earth as a sustainable home technology.
3D printed planetary rover parts
Printing the first vacuum compatible planetary rover “Thinbot” components, enabling a leap towards the next generation of asteroid and planetary exploration rovers. “Thinbots” are future mobile, ultra-lightweight, printable, paper-thin rovers, and this project addresses printing flexible controllers, advanced optical sensors and electronics required for basic robotic functions.
Just to clarify: I’m no one special. I failed maths in high school and majored in languages at university. Not a typical combination for starting a space program.
As I said, I used to be in real estate - but as drab as it was, it never extinguished that spark of geekery that lay smouldering inside me. I’d heard about these things called ‘hackerspaces’ where anyone could go and get hands-on with electronics, 3D printing, robotics and loads of other stuff - and when one opened up in my city, I just had to join. There, I heard about a US-government initiative called the 100-Year Starship project and joined a team to throw together (and try to get funding for) the hackerspace space program. Amazingly, we got half a million dollars over two years to run our mission, and we now cooperate with NASA in the hunt for killer asteroids and fund open-source projects at hackerspaces around the world. And on a personal level I’m helping to build steam-powered thrusters to help satellites position their mirrors, solar panels and antennae, and working to get more youth involved in tinkering and hacking through Curiosity Hacked.
Get involved yourself
Hackerspaces are popping up around the world at an amazing rate. Chances are there’s one near you, and since they’re usually started up on an ad-hoc basis, each has it’s own character. Some are artsy, some are geeky, some focus on electronics and some focus on coding. Even recently war-torn countries like Afghanistan and Iraq now have their own hackerspaces.
Don’t worry about coding a killer app, knowing how to wire a plug or building a 3D printer from scratch - hackerspaces are a place to learn from each other, and failure is part of learning, after all. I was completely clueless on my first day, but over time (and many failures) I learnt from the other members and developed my maker skills.
1. Find your local hackerspace. Many big cities have several.
2. Most hackerspaces have an open night or social night. Try to attend one of these to see what it’s really like. Words can struggle to do them justice!
3. Get involved with a cool project, or just start your own. Instructables has plenty of space projects to get you started off, and we promote many more projects in development through SpaceGAMBIT.org
4. As soon as you’ve got a project going, you may need funding to continue it: SpaceGAMBIT offers funding for certain types of projects, and there’s always Kickstarter or Indiegogo, both of which have successfully funded space projects.
5. If you have kids, there are lots of great programs out there to get them started. Curiosity Hacked are based in the USA and expanding internationally, and Code Club offer after-school coding classes around the world.
About the author:
As the UK/Europe Project Lead at SpaceGAMBIT, I'm usually on the road, meeting makers, encouraging the development of humanity as a spacefaring species, and searching for good coffee. When not on the road I'm based in London and free to meet (and have a drink) with anyone who's passionate about hacking humanity to space.