A New Space Telescope Helps to Usher in a New Future

I think this is pretty cool.  A company with plans to mine asteroid, Planetary Resources, Inc., has just announced that they’re putting a telescope in space and they’re inviting the public to crowdfund it AND use it, too.

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The crowdfunding page with more information and videos is here, a mainstream news account is here, and Phil Plait’s excellent description of the details is here.

Basically they’re inviting the public to join in their venture to drum up some buzz.  The telescope itself is not big — you could buy something similar for your backyard for a few hundred dollars.  The performance won’t be that much better, although it will work in the ultraviolet and infrared which don’t go through our atmosphere so well.  It’s far short of Hubble.  Although I’m an astronomy professor, I don’t really want to talk about it as a scientific instrument or even as a tool for public education.  I want to talk about it as a science fiction writer.

The thing will be in space!  And for an appropriate donation, you can point it and take pictures!  Even of your own image next to it, as in the picture above.

This is the future.  A science fiction future.

This is the kind of thing I could hardly imagine as a kid watching Star Trek.  A company putting a telescope in space and letting the public in on the fun.  A company planning to mine asteroids.  A credible company.  Not NASA with an astronaut elite doing a publicity stunt.

This is one of those moments when we should pause the frenetic pace of the internet and our smart phones and say, “Whoa.”  We are getting to see the future and it is not all the doom and gloom of climate change, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, loss of privacy, and the sometimes inane chatter of twitter.  It’s also people moving into space and bringing others along for the ride, too.

This is just plain cool and a great direction for things to move.  Success here develops excitement for space, as well as positive feelings for space exploration, in an era of government budget cuts that makes NASA unlikely to continue to be able to lead.

As I understand it, they plan to do more similar missions in the future, developing their space instrumentation and launch and deployment capabilities.  This is not a single PR stunt, but the start of something.  Planetary Resources didn’t have to do this at all.  I love that they’re opening space to the public in a way that no one has ever done before, and hope they’ll continue, be successful, and inspire others to do the same.

This is part of the future I’m going to love living in.

I encourage you to check out the kickstarter page, see the images, watch the videos, and consider contributing.  It should be a lot of fun.

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