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Working Virtually

Over the last couple of months the Mach 30 community has been talking more about the concept of virtual Makerspaces. I’m guessing that most of our readers know what a Makerspace (a.k.a. Hackerspace) is, but just in case, I’ll give you a definition I might use.

Makerspace (n.) – A space, normally a physical room or building, where people come together to share resources such as expertise, manpower and tools. This is done to help complete projects that the makers might not otherwise have the resources for.

Some people come just to hang out and see what’s going on, but most come to work on projects. Whether you’re working on arts and crafts or spaceflight hardware, I have yet to find a Makerspace that didn’t welcome all kinds of projects.

The Mach 30 spaceflight hardware developers are spread across the U.S. and we’re always looking for better ways to collaborate on protects. Traveling would be one way to work together, but that gets expensive. We recently changed our Thursday night Google+ Hangout schedule so that we could have a dedicated hardware (a.k.a. “#EngineerSpeak”) Hangout. This will allow us to partially address our collaboration needs.

 Mach 30 Hangout

A Typical Mach 30 Google+ Hangout

The intent was to make it free form so that the things the attendees wanted to work on was what would be worked on. Just like a Makerspace. The first week ended up being more of a normal meeting where I asked for feedback on the Shepard Test Stand software. That was a great Hangout that really helped but the second week’s hardware Hangout ended up feeling much more like a Makerspace, partly because of an engineering challenge that J. Simmons gave us.

The engineering challenge was to see if we could convert the Shepard Test Stand application from Processing to Python in 10 days. That way we could test Python’s viability for use in our Shepard 2.0 kits. As we started that second week’s #EngineerSpeak Hangout, we discovered the need to make some significant changes to the sample code that I wrote to meet part of that challenge.

Shepard Test Fire 2 - E12-8 engine

There were 5 of us in attendance, but Chris Sigman and I were the only two who had accepted J’s challenge. This diversity of interests and focuses had the makings of a great Makerspace environment. Here are a couple of reasons why:

  1. Even though Chris and I weren’t in the same room, we were able to work on the code collaboratively in real time. We worked through the code, sharing solutions to some problems and talking through possible fixes for others. The only thing that would have made it better is if we had both been logged into a shared code editor so we could have been editing “over each other’s shoulders.”
  2. Even though they weren’t working on the engineering challenge, the 3 other Hangout members hung around to work on their own projects. This allowed them to comment on what Chris and I were working on and share things about their activities as well.

It was 5 people sharing a space and resources, working together and independently in true Makerspace style. The Hangout ran long, but before it was over Chris and I had fixed the code and I was left with the feeling that this Hardware Hangout stuff might have some major potential. Couple that with the ability to work on our projects collaboratively on Open Design Engine, and we have a couple of powerful tools to allow us to do distributed development.

As time goes on we’ll be developing and refining our methods of distributed collaboration. It’s a critical part of our mission and we hope you’ll join us on the ride. Stay on the lookout for a future post on how we’re starting to use Open Design Engine as a virtual Makerspace as well. If you’re interested in learning more about Mach 30 and our hardware projects, please add Mach 30 to your Google+ circles and request an invite when you see Thursday night Hangout announcements.

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A New Path to Space (for everyone)

J. Simmons introduces Mach 30, a grass roots space program, and invites the space community to join this revolutionary movement.

Show your support by making a donation here.

Can’t watch the video right now?  You can read the transcript below.

If you don’t care about space exploration, this video is not for you. Feel free to stop watching now. But, before you do, I would appreciate it if you took a moment to send it to any of your friends who are into space. They might like it.

If, on the other hand, like me you grew up with Star Wars and the Space Shuttle, or going a little further back, with Star Trek and Apollo, then this message is for you.

Hello, my name is J. Simmons. I am the founder and President of Mach 30, a non-profit with a new approach to space exploration.

I have wanted to go to space my whole life. My earliest memory is sitting on my mom’s lap at a drive-in movie theater watching Star Wars. I was too young to really get it, but the images of ships flying through space and of traveling to other worlds stuck with me. As I grew up and the Shuttle program started, I believed people when they said the Shuttle was going to make the dream of routine access to space a reality. And yet, 135 missions, and 30 years later, and we are still only dreaming. Sure the ISS is an impressive feat of engineering, but it is not somewhere any of us can expect to visit.

We have waited too many years for someone else to change the course of human space exploration. Instead of again asking our representatives to increase NASA’s budget, or cheering on another rocket launch, we must take the reigns ourselves.

There has never been a more perfect moment for a grass roots space program. The Internet has changed the way we work, share, and support one another. The success of open source software is ushering in a revolution in the design of hardware. And, the gap in US spaceflight has opened the door to new directions in space policy.

Enter Mach 30. Our goal is to design open source spaceflight hardware, and in doing so, create a world where the next “Facebook” is a space-based company whose business model is as inconceivable to us now as Facebook would have been in 1990. That’s the kind of world I want to live in. Where access to space is like the Internet: everywhere and a part of our daily lives.

We need your help to go from concept to reality. First, please share this video with all of your pro-space friends. We need to get the word out that there is a new path open to us, one that we have direct control over. Send it to your scifi buddies, post it on Facebook, tweet about it, share it with your Linux Users Groups…

Second, please make a donation to Mach 30. Hardware costs money, legal fees cost money. It turns out space is just really expensive. And remember, it all adds up. $5, $10, $25, and $50 at a time, from everyone who dreams of going into space could change the whole game.

Thank you for your help and support. Ad astra per civitas – to the stars through community

What do we mean by a “spacefaring civilization?”

2001: A Space Odyssey Clavius Moon Colony

Image by Dallas1200am via Flickr

The mission of Mach 30 is “to hasten the advancement of humanity into a spacefaring civilization.” But what does that mean? When we talk about a “spacefaring civilization,” we are talking about the promises of the 1960s made real. Consider the film 2001: A Space Odyssey, released in April 1968 over a year before the first humans walked on the Moon. This movie predicted that by 2001 major airlines would be offering regular service to Low Earth Orbit using reusable space planes. It also predicted there would be multiple, extensive lunar bases. And, let’s not forget that the defining mission to another planet is not to Mars (been there, done that?) but to Jupiter and its moons! This is something that not even the most forward looking advocates of space exploration are discussing.

2001 is not the only example from the 1960s that makes these kind of predictions. There are a number of of books, videos, and other material that all promised a very similar future (routine access to space, lunar colonies, expeditions to Mars), all by the end of the twentieth century. Yet, none of this has come to pass. At present, all human access to Earth orbit is still provided by government space programs. And the Space Shuttle, while partly reusable, does not come close to being the kind of space plane that can make routine flights to space (commercial or otherwise) a reality.

Yes commercial companies are starting to work on access to space, but each of them has to start at square one when they are founded. Just look at the first project of almost every new space company: design and build a rocket engine. Seriously, if you want to start a spaceflight company, the first thing you need to do is design your own rocket engine. This is the equivalent of saying go design your own jet engine to anyone who wants to start an airline.

Still, we believe, some day the kind of future predicted in 2001 (or one very much like it) will come to pass. It is a vision born of the idea that commercial enterprise has developed the tools, technologies, and markets to establish a true space economy. And eventually all of those things will come to pass. It is just in our nature to push the boundaries of what can be done and where we can go. So, reaching this future is less a question of if, and more a question of when.

Given the costs associated with spaceflight (and the amount of effort spent reinventing the “wheel”), it seems reasonable to assume that without any intervention it will take quite a bit of time before we reach the future promised in the film 2001. Our goal at Mach 30 is to shorten the wait. We believe that by applying the principles of sustainability, open source development, and the use of mature technology we can get off the “not invented here” merry-go-round, and instead get on a path toward evolutionary improvements built on a shared foundation of technologies. And that like the explosion of commercial enterprise on the Internet, this shared foundation will lead to new and unimagined markets in space for commercial enterprise to serve.