prev next

Celebrating MLK Day

In 1964, due to the efforts of many including Dr. Martin Luther King Jr, the Civil Rights Act was passed. On November 2nd, 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed the bill that would create the national holiday in his memory that we now celebrate. To honor MLK’s efforts and those of the many others involved in the Civil Rights Movement, we thought we’d look at what it has meant for space exploration, and how space is now integrated into their memory and contributions to our lives.

An Inclusionary Space Program

The first African American to be a candidate for NASA’s astronaut program was Ed Dwight.  Like many other NASA astronauts, Ed Dwight was a test pilot.  After President Kennedy’s assassination, his path at NASA changed. There seem to be two separate stories, both told by Dwight himself. The first is a report written by Dwight detailing others at the training school making many discriminatory comments (for more about what was known publicly in 1965, see this article in Ebony Magazine). Twenty years later in 1985 though, Dwight said in an interview with the same publication that President Lyndon B. Johnson, who took office following Kennedy’s assassination, “wanted his own Black guy, and they chose [Robert] Lawrence” (Ebony Magazine, Feb 1984).

Ed Dwight

Ed Dwight, former Air Force test pilot and NASA astronaut in training

Robert Lawrence Jr, Dwights successor, seemed like he might also have the right stuff. He was selected for astronaut training for the Air Force’s Manned Orbital Laboratory program right after completing the Air Force’s Test Pilot Training School in 1967. Sadly, 6 months later in December, Lawrence died in a training accident.

Since Dwight, and including Lawrence, there have been 20 black astronauts, 14 of which have gone to space.  There have also been 5 men and women of Asian decent in the US space program who have reached space.

Celebrations of their Memory and Contributions

There have been many space related ways that MLK’s memory, and the memory of the contributions of others in the space program have been celebrated.


The moon, or supermoon, is seen as it sets over the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial

The moon, or supermoon, is seen as it sets over the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial on Monday, Nov. 14, 2016. Photo Credit: (NASA/Aubrey Gemignani)

Space Station photo of Atlanta

Space Station photo of Atlanta, courtesy NASA, 19 Jan 2015


Remember Ed Dwight, the first black astronaut in training? After leaving the Air Force, he became a sculptor. He has created a number of great pieces of art in display all over the country, including this African American History Monument in the State Capital Grounds of South Carolina.

The African American History Monument at the State Capital Grounds in South Carolina.

The African American History Monument at the State Capital Grounds in South Carolina.

Dwight didn’t just become a great sculptor though, he became a master. Besides his many works, Dwight is also credited with inventing the negative space technique in sculpting, which you can see evidenced in his Jazz series, among others. You can see pictures of these and many of his works on the website for his studio.

Many More

These are just some of the highlights of how the Civil Rights Movement affected space, and how space has become integrated in how we celebrate them. There’s more than astronauts, pictures, and sculptures though that we can appreciate on MLK day. The recent movie Hidden Figures shows that there is much more beyond the surface. What else do you know that helps paint the picture of how the Civil Rights Movement changed space, and how its changes to space changed the world?

2016 Holiday Gift Ideas

Sometimes, it can be hard to think of the right gift for people. Even if you can think of a good one, sometimes you still want some more ideas. And sometimes, you’re shopping for yourself. Whatever your reason, we’ve got some holiday gift ideas for you!

Retro Space Travel Posters

Earlier this year, NASA JPL released a series of travel posters for the planets of the solar system, and beyond. These are great gift ideas for the space lover in your life, and there’s plenty of shops on Etsy that carry the posters and derived merchandise. We liked these so much, we did a poster giveaway contest for them!

If you think one of these posters make for good gift ideas, it might not be a bad idea to take a look around for other space inspired travel posters. SpaceX’s travel posters were debuted in April last year. Another option is these by Aaron Wood, A.K.A Justonescarf Designs:

3D Printed Models and Accessories

3D printed things are really cool, if for no other reason than we encounter so few things that are. For some extra special rocketry related gift ideas, check out Shapeways. They’ve got everything from model rockets to miniatures, keychains to necklaces. There’s even a scale model of the solar system!


Clothing gifts can be some of the lamest gift ideas. Who likes getting underwear for Christmas? But there’s plenty of good gift ideas to be had in the space themed clothing department. Star Wars inspired t-shirts are a fan favorite, such as those found on We Love Fine. For the colder weather of winter, or a capsule landing in the frozen tundra of Siberia, there’s jackets like the Space Jacket from Betabrand. And for one last suggestion, you could go retro with Space Invader themed socks and other clothing.


Those are some of our favorite gift ideas, and we hope they help you out! Regardless of whether you’re shopping for your friends and family or for yourself. 😁 Got any ideas of your own? Feel free to let us know!

NOTE: These ideas are solely based on the opinions of its author. Neither its author nor Mach 30 make any gain from the sale of these products. Mach 30 makes no guarantees on these gifts.

Shepard Test Stand is now OSHWA Certified Open Hardware

Mach 30’s first hardware project was the Shepard Test Stand, a piece of hardware we designed to run tests on commonly available Estes rocket motors. From day one, it was a piece of Open Source Hardware. Now it’s an Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA) Certified Open Source Hardware, receiving serial number US000006.shepard-oshwa-cert

OSHWA created the program primarily as a way to help people identify that a piece of hardware meets the commonly accepted definition of Open Source Hardware. This includes such points as the ease of access to the documentation, licensing, and others. All of these items are related to keeping the hardware as accessible as possible for others to recreate it themselves, modify, or even use parts to create their own unique piece of work.

Mach 30 was invited to participate in a closed trial of the process to certify that a piece of hardware should receive the OSHWA Certified Open Source Hardware badge, and as such we were privileged enough to receive one of the first serial numbers, US000006. If you’d like to learn more about the Shepard Test Stand, you can find out more on the project’s page on Open Design Engine.

Shepard Rocket Motor Test Stand | Apogee III | Mach 30

Shepard Rocket Motor Test Stand

There were 60 separate projects registered, from 9 different countries from around the world. For more information about these first projects, check out the post on If you’d like to learn more about the registration process, that link also contains a link to the registration form.

About Ground Sphere: Past, Present, and Future

Mach 30 is currently building Ground Sphere. This is a ground station that will allow us (and you!) the ability to listen to satellites cheaply and easily. We’ve been working on Ground Sphere for some years, starting in 2013. Below is an abbreviated history of the project, although more details are available at Ground Sphere’s History Page on Open Design Engine.

Ground Sphere Satellite Ground Station Mission Patch

What is a ground station?

Ground stations are basically radio stations, except that they let people communicate with satellites by sending and receiving radio signals to and from Space. Sending signals requires a license, so Ground Sphere is designed to only receive signals from Space. Mach 30 is in the process of creating Ground Sphere MK3. It is an open-source ground station project, documented on our Open Design Engine. Ground Sphere’s ultimate goal is to allow those that use it to listen to the International Space Station as it travels above the Earth.

What kind of signals can you receive with Ground Sphere?

The various incarnations of Ground Sphere have had several capabilities, from listening to a specific satellite, to receiving Ham radio signals. There’s a wide range of frequencies that the Ground Sphere design can be tuned to, and we’re asking anyone interested to help us determine the best frequency to tune it to. You can tell us your thoughts in our minute long survey.

The history of Ground Sphere:

  • MK1 was our proof of concept. Its mission was to receive signals from Ham Radio Satellites, and when it made its on-screen appearance at Yuri’s Night in 2013 in Colorado, it was able to receive signals from as far away as California and Tennessee.
  • MK2 was the companion to SkyCube , and its mission was to receive “Tweets” from SkyCube, a Kickstarter CubeSat project from Southern Stars. Unfortunately, SkyCube had gotten essentially lost in space.

Current Ground Sphere MK3 development

  1. First, we wanted to review other maker ground stations, such as the SDR software evaluation based on “listening to satellites for $30”.  This software’s goal was to listen to signals, and allow them to be recorded. Unfortunately, we found that this article did not entirely allow for the reader to listen to the ISS for $30.
  2. Next, we want to make sure that the math of satellite communications from the ground is well documented, which we’ve started in a video by Mach 30 volunteer Aaron Harper. You can see that video below. Needless to say, there is a LOT of math here. It is important that our math be checked, and documented, so that others are able to recreate our findings and research.
  3. Beyond the basics of construction and documentation, we want to see what people might be most interested in using Ground Sphere for, and that means researching other possible uses. Examples include downloading images from weather satellites, but there might be more; tell us if you’ve got one in mind!
  4. Step four is to build the new prototype for a to-be-determined frequency. It could be weather satellites, Ham radio satellites, or something else entirely.

As Ground Sphere progresses, we will update our readers about how we’re able to grow and use the project.

Remember, you can be a part of projects like Ground Sphere by joining our weekly IPT Standup meetings, held on Google hangouts. You can join us on Tuesday evenings at 8:30pm Eastern Time by clicking here. We are always interested in meeting people who are interested in being a part of our mission to help all of Humanity reach Outer Space. To find out more about how you can become a Mach 30 Catalyst, please click here.

You can also follow GroundSphere on Twitter at

What would you be interested in using Ground Sphere for? Let us know in the comments!


Come See Apogee III, Aug 6 at TechShop in Arlington, VA

We are fast approaching our third annual Apogee conference, and this year it is going to be bigger and better than ever! Thanks to our venue sponsor, the DC-Arlington TechShop, we have a wonderful space to host Apogee. When you come by to check us out, you’ll find TechShop filled with all the open source and maker space projects you can handle, and on top of that a load of presentations about space and spaceflight hardware.


The presentations range from Mach 30’s 2016 project, Ground Sphere, to what it was like to participate in a simulated mission to Mars. The exhibit space also includes desktop satellite simulators, high powered model rocketry, live demos of the Shepard Test Stand. We even have a presentation on how to make rocket fuel from household ingredients (don’t try this at home!). See the Apogee III page for the full list of presentations and exhibits.

Apogee runs 10am – 4pm, Saturday Aug 6, 2016.  Tickets are on sale now at Eventbrite. Hurry, early bird registration (20% off admission) ends July 31.

We hope to see you there!