Wednesday, October 22, 2014
You've never seen anything like this.
You've seen Kickstarter and other crowd-funded projects… you've seen fan films, games, novels, events… a lot of them I'm involved with. But no—you've never seen anything like this:
"This" is the Enterprise in Space project you may have been hearing me hint about in recent weeks.
Look, I had no clue I'd be wrapped up in this non-profit mission as the year started. Now I'm thrilled I got involved and can spill the beans and the excitement: There's so much!—but hang with me while I try. The site and project is finally LIVE, and it is based on a few simple premises:
Take our shared and inspired love of space and exploration, whether fact or fiction (right?)... give 100+ student minds worldwide a chance to fly their space projects in orbit—all disciplines and, for once, for free ...let the donors come along as virtual crewmembers... and make science fact out of that science fiction. It's a great way to play the adventure and pay homage to all our sci-fi heroes and creators with a real-world result.
There are SO many groovy moving parts, it's hard to get it all out. For starters, you can take a look at the website's first video to get an idea.
But as founder Shawn Case says, simply: "Isn't it time a real Enterprise flew in space?" That was Shawn's starting premise... and if all goes as planned, that will finally happen in 2019—along with a big outreach to educators and students, helpful corporations and non-profits, and of course grassroots funding... all over the world. And after the 8-foot craft re-enters for recovery, the whole thing goes on a tour of museums and conventons before going on a display at a major space museum (yes, we're talking with THAT one). And, of course, the experiments' data will be maintained, analyzed and made available.
Just to be clear: The NASA space shuttle Enterprise was an unpowered test ship, remember, and flew key but dummy drop-tests; Richard Branson's same-named Virgin craft was sub-orbital. Thus, the name "Enterprise" is an honored one, from namesakes of Star Trek's various iconic and beloved ships to their own namesake as two heroic US Navy aircraft carriers, and even sail ships before that.
Shawn, a Trek fan and space buff from Oregon, did what a lot of us do in our daydreams: figure out how to marry up the most inspirational, optimistic science fiction with science fact, right? It got me excited, and it got the National Space Society excited too—where both Gene and Majel Roddenberry served as prior board members...excited enough to sponsor what Shawn and his team have planned out for over three years, now officially the "NSS Enterprise orbiter." It's got the likes of Apollo 11 moonwalker Buzz Aldrin and Nichelle "Uhura" Nichols, Grace Lee "Yeoman Rand" Whitney and renowned broadcaster Hugh Downs...and many more... just as excited.
And the first part of all is... there's a contest—open to ANYONE—to design the thing! Sure the orbiter has to be spaceworthy, but check out these rules and get your entry in. Call all the designers, doodlers and CG artists you know as well. That's why there's no shiny spacecraft to show off—yet—but the contest ends Nov. 27, so get cracking. Or sharing.
The optimistic brand of science fiction—from Gene's Star Trek to the forward-tilting futurism of Heinlein and Asimov—has always had a mutual love affair with NASA and our real-life space heroes, right? I mean, as I've said often, I was a NASA kid way before I was a Trek fan, growing up on all the early flights—especially the Apollo moon landings. We played Apollo at recess, guys! I turned our treehouse into a LM and we put on whole Apollo missions.
I bet you feel the same way, right? You swell with pride every time we fix a satellite, discover a new deep-space secret, or rev up another rover on Mars. And I bet you've fumed "Stop picking on NASA, budget-cutters!" more than once the last decade or two, right?
Now, yes, we're not talking backyard model rockets here. But Shawn's dream isn't just shared by you and me: It tugs at the heartstrings of inspiration for a lot of fans—many of whom are today's aerospace pros, rocket scientists, project managers, top educators... and that's exactly who got excited enough to join the EIS team. I now know the guy who oversaw Citibank's world-record eCommerce system ... the woman who managed the $6 billion expansion of O'Hare Airport... a longtime engineer for the space shuttle and unmanned probes galore... NASA's only two-time educator of the year—but Buck Field, Alice Hoffman, Fred Becker and Lynne Zielinski are just the tip of the iceberg of the talent within the EIS group, all under the legal sponsorship of the National Space Society. The meet has been meeting twice weekly for months, jointly on Skype calls from California, Oregon, Texas, Illinois, other states and even Chile.
And THAT is why this $40 million project can be done, with Space X boosters and SpaceWorks capsule fabricators as the intended contractors—that kind of talent pool. ... Wait, did your eyes glaze over at that budget? How about, as Shawn says, you think of it as "2 million people worldwide giving $20 each...one time"? We have non-profit and corporate grants, too, and aerospace tech testing materials for re-entry... but our viral target stays the same. No one or two big sponsors in control ... but grassroots for "the cost of a movie ticket," as Shawn says.
See, fans, don't think of your typical Kickstarter, here. One of Shawn's goals that I Iove is that there IS no donor bureaucracy with EIS—no levels, no toteboard, no manic requests on ticking-clock deadlines. 'Cause let's be honest: you know I will support all my projects and hope you do too, but there is a bit of crowdfunder fatigue out there.
So, with EIS, just send in $20 for the entire project, and be a virtual NSS Enterprise crewmember: You get an immediate certificate, plus first updates on every step of the mission AND, most cool: Your name goes on a chip that will fly and come back post-flight, for you to see yourself at an event near you. And, for just that $20, you've got plenty left still to help out your other fave projects asking for your help—or shop for those great Trek Christmas gifts!
Look, do me a favor: Share the design contest info now (it closes Nov. 27). (Later there'll also be a contest to design the mission patch.) Share the website, Facebook and Twitter, Google+ and YouTube with everyone you know—the more far afield the better (I'm lookin' at you, my European and Asian friends, for starters!). Tell all the cool teachers and bright young minds you know about the experiments submission and curricula materials. Volunteer to help out, either live or online...or even be a sponsor if you want to go big. We need everything from local event speakers to video/animators to social media voices.
Most of all, please "sign aboard", cadets, with your $20 donation that helps make it all possible—and claims your place on the digital manifest you can see yourself in a few years.
Then follow along as Enterprise in Space, step by step, makes this inspired dream a reality. There's more to come: a tablet showing your "crew" image waving from the portal window, filmed by a tether-towed camera? A new technology of AI-style vocal smart computing for experiment and craft control, a la Starfleet? The ideas are rolling in as we speak...others are volunteering help from their expertise areas .... and there will soon be a weekly EIS podcast produced by our Trekland: On Speaker producer and friend Chris Jones at trek.fm to really keep everyone up-to-date, along with the e-newsletter you sign up for on the homepage.
I am aboard as the "promotions manager" for EIS, which mostly means I'll be the voice and face of bringing the excitement and details and talented people of EIS to the fan, space and genre community at our live and recorded events...and at conventions and conferences. I won't blog here at Trekland so much as link you over to our posts, podcasts, and press releases as each project milestone is reached.
But I do hope you sign up and join us on this adventure—a positive, real-world outcome based on all the good vibes from that positive future that Gene and so many others aspired and inspired to.
As for me ...It feels great to be a "space kid" again!