Space tourism. Whether you view it as the ultimate rich man's mini-vacation or a means to offset funding for important work, those seats start at $95,000. That's unattainable for most people, making space exploration an inherently elitist treasure.
That's something Edward Wright would like to change through the Dallas-based nonprofit Citizens in Space, a group that challenges the public to embark on suborbital travel.
They're currently combing Dallas for inventive people to send on 30-minute space flight missions, each trip peaking with four to five minutes of weightlessness. As anyone who spent childhood fantasizing about space camp can attest: That is rad.
Citizens in Space (formerly Teachers in Space) purchased 10 seats on XCOR Lynx crafts, smallish two-person shuttles that carry one operator and one passenger up 100 kilometers (328,000 ft) into the Karman Line, a straddling point between the Earth's atmosphere and outer space. Once there, the pod's occupants experience a window of weightlessness before hitting re-entry, which presses passengers and cargo against 4-and-a-half Gs of force, and -- if our science is right -- turns human faces into cartoons.
In addition to seats, CIS has bought up room for 100 experiment payloads, which will also be selected from Citizen Scientist future submissions. CIS will scout potential Dallas candidates, human and testable, this Saturday at the Space Hackers Workshop, a microgravity science payload-building course designed as an offshoot portion of Moon Day, happening at the Frontiers of Flight Museum.
Four travelers have already been named with a fifth being announced on Saturday, leaving five chairs to fill from Dallas residents with the right stuff.
Wright and his group held this workshop once before in California; it attracted primarily aeronautics junkies, but also some outlying professionals like teachers and surgeons. Of the seats currently filled, three go to citizens with strong science backgrounds and the other is Maureen Adams, an elementary school teacher and principal from Killeen. Wright expects a similar mash-up of backgrounds on Saturday, but is more curious to see what projects people come up with. "The best way to go about [getting selected] is to submit a really killer experiment," promises Wright.
One of the reasons this suborbital non-profit exists, he explains, is to reconnect the public with science endeavors -- a throw-back to pre-20th century norms when individuals (then called "Gentlemen Scientists") with big ideas could be funded by well-heeled individuals, their work going on to benefit the greater good. Modern laboratory equipment is so expensive and elaborate that most of those private-study projects have moved out of the hands of individuals and into government or institutional settings.
Wright says it needn't be that way.
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Thanks to Internet accessibility and smartphones, technology and information are available to everyone, even if commercial-grade tools are not. Combine that ease of information exchange with the modern Maker movement, which attracts hundreds of thousands to like-minded faires, message boards, blogs and zines, and you can see why Wright believes a citizen scientist resurgence is nigh. Projects like this are efforts to move that momentum further still, encouraging individuals to identify problems and target topical solutions, especially in trending areas like high-altitude microorganisms.
Everyone from NASA to paint companies want information about those, says Wright. High-altitude microorganisms operate under a unique set of properties, and better understanding of them could solve problems as banal as paint pigment erosion to global issues like drought management. "Some of the most viable nucleation sites are actually spores and bacteria," says Wright. It's a topic of such interest that NASA's extending a $10,000 challenge project, the details of which will be doled out on Saturday.
Oh, and those selected to go up will go through centrifuge training, just like at space camp.
Participants leave the two-day workshop with a hardware package to help them get started. Here's the link to enroll.