The Politics of Space

The International Space Station (ISS), as its name implies, is a collaboration between many different countries, including the US, Russia, Canada, Japan, and the countries that make up the European Space Agency. One notable exception is China. (China does have an active space agency and operates its own station through its evolving Tiangong Program). Though the ISS orbits hundreds of miles above us, it does not escape the grasp of our earthly politics.

I’ve mentioned previously that NASA retired its space shuttle fleet in 2011, leaving American astronauts no way to independently get to the space station. Under normal circumstances (and even under some abnormal circumstances, as we will soon see) this is not a problem because of international cooperation. We don’t have our own transportation, so we just hitch a ride on the Russian Soyuz vessel—for a fee, of course. But what happens when the nation of America is not feeling friendly towards the nation of Russia, as is currently the case? (I’m not going to go into details about what’s going on in Crimea right now, partly because it’s very complicated, and partly because I don’t even understand it all myself. Suffice it to say, America does not agree with Russia’s policy on the matter.)

Though federal agencies were ordered to stop communication with Russia, NASA’s situation is unique. Luckily for the American astronauts currently aboard the ISS/those scheduled to go aboard soon, NASA has decreed that their relationship with Russia in regards to the ISS will continue as normal. All other contact, however, are suspended. Chris Hadfield recently linked to a well-written article about the necessity of having our own way to get to space, written in response to current events. I’m all for it, but obviously not everyone is, or else we would already have developed something.

Just a note: Evan Hadfield has been on point with his commenting lately. Though Chris Hadfield does his own posting on his social media now that he’s back on earth, it is his son, Evan, who does most of the monitoring. It’s not uncommon to see Evan engaging in the comments sections on his father’s posts, mostly to clarify matters. Evan isn’t afraid of responding to impolite comments, and he’s often expressed his exasperation with the incivility of online discourse. One comment on the post linking to the article I mentioned above expressed annoyance that Chris Hadfield is not above the “silly games of politics.” Evan responded by saying that his father has, on many occasions, called for international cooperation between all nations—including China—and that his posting of this one article does not constitute his views. I think it’s a good response. I think international cooperation in the space industry between all nations would be beneficial to humankind, in general. That being said, I feel uncomfortable that we don’t have our own mode of transport, just in case.

What do you think? Do we need our own spacecraft capable of carrying astronauts to space, or can we keep relying on Russia? Keep in mind that the development of such spacecraft would require a lot of money, money that Congress has as of yet been unwilling to grant to NASA.

Final note: I guess this is it. Hope you’ve all enjoyed the ride—I know I have.


NASA Spinoff Technologies

Have any of you seen those gigapixel images from sporting events (the giant panoramic pictures that show everything in detail)? The first one I saw was of the homecoming game against Michigan. My dad sent me and my brother an email with the link and pointed out where we were. (I honestly have no idea how he found us. Yes, the quality is amazing, but there are so many people—all wearing white—and only half of my face is visible…) There are also ones from the Return to Rec basketball game and from the opening night at the Pegula Ice Arena.

These pictures are super cool, but you may be wondering what exactly they have to do with space. Well, the photo processing software to make supersized digital pictures was developed by NASA to take images of Mars and then later brought to the commercial market. Every year, NASA publishes a report called Spinoff that highlights new spinoff products. (NASA also publishes monthly “Tech Briefs” aimed at the scientific/technical community that list available licensing opportunities.) According to Spinoff 2013, a spinoff is “a commercialized product incorporating NASA technology or expertise that benefits the public.”

[Interesting note: there is a distinction between a “NASA spinoff” and a “NASA success.” The latter is “a NASA technology that is not available on the market but still yields benefits to the public.” The example given in the FAQs is technology that is used to restore artwork damaged by fire—useful to the public, but not commercially available.]

The NASA Spinoff homepage features some of the latest spinoffs, and they also have a searchable database. According to the site, around 1,800 stories have been published since 1976. Spinoff has many goals, but perhaps the biggest one is to justify NASA funding. By showing people all of the things that have come from NASA, through their tax dollars, the hope is that people will see value in continuing funding.

I chose to start off with gigapixel images because it was on the homepage of the site and it seemed relevant, but there are tons of other cool technologies. The Wikipedia page lists 27 spinoffs (not sure how those 27 were picked, but it’s a nice place to look if you want a shorter list). Things that have been created or advanced by spinoff technology include: memory foam, freeze drying, anti-icing systems for aircraft, ventricular assist devices, firefighting equipment, and water purification.

I think collaboration between the government and private sector is so crucial to advancement of all kind, and these spinoffs really prove the technological side of that. There is a lot of money invested in NASA, and there are obviously a lot of very smart people working for NASA. But there are also a lot of very clever researchers and entrepreneurs not working for NASA. By combining these factors, amazing things can result—things that may seem more tangible or useful than exploring the universe—and I think it’s a great idea to promote these successes.

What do you guys think (about spinoffs or NASA funding in general)? Had you heard of any other spinoff technologies before reading this post?


The Z-2 Spacesuit

A couple of weeks ago I posted about an asteroid coding competition sponsored by NASA. Continuing on my theme of interaction between NASA and the public, I present to you: the Z-2 Spacesuit Design Vote!

NASA has started a new line of next generation spacesuits, named the Z-series. The Z-1 was completed in November 2012, and the Z-2 is currently being developed (expected completion date is November 2014). The iconic white spacesuits worn by NASA astronauts have worked well in the past, but now NASA is trying to develop suits better suited to different environments and circumstances, such as walking around on the surface of Mars. Taken directly from the website I linked above, here are new features incorporated in the Z-2:

  • First surface-specific planetary mobility suit to be tested in full vacuum
  • First use of 3D human laser scans and 3D-printed hardware for suit development and sizing
  • Most advanced use of impact resistant composite structures on a suit upper and lower torso system
  • First integration of the suit-port concept with a hard upper torso suit structure
  • Most conformal and re-sizeable hard upper torso suit built to date

Where you come in is with the visual aspect. In collaboration with ILC (the primary suit vendor) and art students at the Philadelphia University, NASA has released 3 designs for the new suit’s cover layer and is allowing the public to vote on these options until April 15th. (The cover layer serves to protect the suit itself, so you’re not actually voting on the technical aspects of the suit, just its appearance.) According to this article, current suits are white to deflect heat and to be visible against the black of space.  For missions where astronauts will be “earthbound”—that is, where astronauts will be walking on the surface of planets with gravity, these limitations don’t really apply. (The current plan is to send a manned mission to Mars by 2030, so NASA is trying to get a head start—designing suits for a new purpose requires a lot of attention to detail, and there will probably be many more Z-series models to come in the upcoming decades.)

In my opinion, the Z-1 looks cool, but I’m not a huge fan of any of the options for the Z-2.

The Z-1 Spacesuit. Buzz Lightyear, is that you?

The Z-1. Buzz Lightyear, is that you?

Z-2 option 1: "Biomimicry"

Z-2 Option A: “Biomimicry”

Z-2 Option B: "Technology"

Z-2 Option B: “Technology”

Z-2 Option C: "Trends in Society"

Z-2 Option C: “Trends in Society”

I voted for “Technology,” but looking back again, I might actually like “Biomimicry” more. Which design is your favorite? Let me know in the comments, but also go vote! It only takes a minute, and it’s pretty cool to be able to say you had an impact on spacesuit design! (P.S. If you’re voting, it might be worthwhile to at least skim through the descriptions of each design.)

As a bonus, here’s a link a Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) hosted by a group of the engineers designing the Z-2 that happened last week.

So you want to be an astronaut…

I’m surprised I’ve come this far without writing a post about how to become an astronaut. As I’ve mentioned several times over the course of this blog, I have no interest in becoming an astronaut myself, but I have read a lot about the process. Since we’re in America, I’ll be pulling my information mostly from NASA, though I suspect most space programs have similar requirements.

On its website, NASA only lists a few requirements. There are slight requirement differences between “Commander and Pilot” astronauts and “Mission Specialist” astronauts, but the basics are the same: candidates must (1) have a bachelor’s degree in engineering, biological science, physical science, or mathematics and (2) be able to pass a physical (including standards for vision, blood pressure, and height*). So, if you’re shorter than 4’10.5” or taller than 6’4”, if you’re colorblind, or if you have some type of serious medical condition, you’re out of luck. To be a commander/pilot you need to have had 1,000 hours in command of a jet, and to be a mission specialist you need at least 3 years of “related, progressively responsible, professional experience” related to your degree, but all that’s a piece of cake, right? (Just a heads up, your master’s degree only counts as one year of experience.)

All kidding aside, even though these “basic” requirements are nothing to sneeze at, there are probably a lot of people in American who fit this criteria. I’m not going to try to make up a number, but I’m sure everyone reading this knows of some people who could theoretically apply. “Theoretically” is the key word here, because everyone who applies is smart, driven, and in shape both mentally and physically. (From some of the reading I’ve done, the physical training for astronauts is hard. Like get-dropped-in-the-middle-of-the-frozen-tundra-with-barely-any-supplies-and-survive hard. To say astronauts are “in shape” is an understatement.)

2013 candidates

The 2013 NASA astronaut candidates

Take a look at the background info of the 8 astronaut candidates selected in 2013 (after a year-and-a-half search) from a pool of over 6,000 applicants and tell me you’re not intimidated. (Did I say intimidated? I meant impressed. But also intimidated.) Notice also how 6 of the 8 have a background in the Armed Forces. Service in the Armed Forces remains a common path to becoming an astronaut, though civilians are allowed to apply and often are accepted.

Here’s a screenshot of a (slightly outdated) timeline of the application from NASA’s website.


To finish the post off, here are some “insider tips” I found online—a worthwhile read, if you’re at all interested.

*The height requirement may be surprising to some, but there’s good reason for it. Chris Hadfield alludes to the reasoning in his autobiography: NASA astronauts used to go to space aboard space shuttles, but the space shuttle program ended in 2011. Currently, the only way for our astronauts to get to space is via the Russian Soyuz vessels, which are significantly smaller than space shuttles. Astronauts taller than the limit simply cannot fit safely in the Soyuz (and I presume anyone shorter is also unable to fit properly in the harness).

NASA wants you!

Well, probably not you, the person reading this—unless you know how to code—but the point is that NASA is increasingly asking for help from (ordinary) people outside of its organization. I have posted previously about the commercialization of the space industry, and competitions such as the one NASA has just started are one aspect of this. Similar in motive to the X Prize Foundation (which includes the Google Lunar XPRIZE that some Penn State students are taking part in), NASA is relying on monetary incentive and competition as a way to produce results. In opening their contest to anyone, furthermore, NASA is increasing the brainpower contributing to this issue.

NASA is launching an Asteroid Data Hunting contest series that will take place over the next six months, with prizes totaling $35,000. In this case, they are looking for a better code to identify asteroids that might crash into Earth. (There are more specifics on what exactly they’re looking for in a code; feel free to do more research if you’re interested.) Come up with such an algorithm, and you will be rewarded.

This contest series is only the first of several to come in NASA “Asteroid Grand Challenge,” so expect more challenges (and prizes) to be made public soon.

A BBC article about NASA’s contest mentions a site called Zooniverse, which is a leading online platform for “citizen scientists.” Virtually anybody can go online and help out with different projects. I checked out the website, and it’s actually really cool. The projects are diverse, and range from sorting sunspots to analyzing cancer cells (which is what I did—give it a try!). The nice thing is that there’s not a minimum time commitment. You can go on and work through 5 minutes of data and be done, or you can be much more involved if you want. A member of Zooniverse, Robert Simpson, made some pretty good points about this topic. He explains, “Computers don’t have curiosity. People often find things in the data that computers can’t.” Furthermore, because “We are creating these huge data sets but we don’t have enough scientists to analyse them,” creating forums and competitions for everyday citizens who are passionate about science is beneficial to everyone.

Looking back on the more extreme competitions (rather than an online platform like Zooniverse), what are your thoughts? Are they worthwhile for the companies sponsoring them? How about for the participants? (Keep in mind the input to output ratio. The amount of money the winning team of the Lunar XPRIZE will spend, for example, will definitely be more than the amount of money they win—and that’s only looking at the winning team.)

In other news, the three members of Expedition 37/38 safely landed in Kazakhstan on March 10th after spending six months aboard the International Space Station. Welcome home!

Do you believe in aliens?

Alien 3

The conspiracy theories we looked at in class last week got me thinking about extraterrestrial life. I’m going to try to stay away from the term “aliens” because I think the connotation is of a green, human-like creature, which is misleading because life only requires one cell.

Let’s go over some numbers, courtesy of Wikipedia. The only life forms we know of exist on planet Earth. Earth is one of 8 planets in the solar system (sorry, Pluto!).  Our solar system is part of a galaxy called the Milky Way

Milky Way, the candy bar

Milky Way, the candy bar

(which is also the name of a delicious candy bar). The Milky Way contains hundreds of billions of planets. (Hundreds of billions, can you even comprehend how many that is? No, you can’t, but nice try.) There are probably more than 170 billion galaxies in the observable universe. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

The Milky Way, our galaxy

The Milky Way, our galaxy

Considering the enormity of our universe, it seems statistically improbable—and really arrogant—that our little earth is the only planet that supports life.  (Check out this article for some very basic statistics.) The more I think about it, the more positive I am that extraterrestrial life does exist.

I’m a little less sure about the existence of intelligent life. I’m an optimist, though, so yeah, I think there is intelligent life out there.(One of my problems with grasping this idea is the definition of intelligent life. We humans are the ones defining intelligent life, but what if there are other life forms out there that are “intelligent” in ways other than what we can comprehend? Would we ever be able to appreciate such life? And would it even be considered “life”? Tough questions…)

That being said, there is a big difference between other life existing (or having existed at some point in time) and us being able to discover this life. For example, even though we know billions and billions of planets exist, we have only confirmed the existence of around 1,700 planets outside the Solar System using the Kepler telescope. I have no idea what the requirements for confirming a planet are, so I’m just going to leave it to the smart people at NASA.

Of these new planets, four are “less than 2.5 times the size of Earth and orbit in their sun’s habitable zone, defined as the range of distance from a star where the surface temperature of an orbiting planet may be suitable for life-giving liquid water.” Life, as we define it, requires water, so in theory a planet supporting life would have to fall within a certain distance of the star (sun) it orbits.

Though so far we haven’t had any luck, what are your thoughts on the matter? Does extraterrestrial life exist? How about intelligent life? And, more importantly, will we ever find this life?

Behind every astronaut

This isn’t a lighthearted post, so feel free to look elsewhere if you’re not in a serious/reflective mood.

When looking at successful people (be it Olympic gold medalists or, as in this case, astronauts), it’s often easy to overlook everything that has enabled these people to succeed—their hard work, certainly, but also all of the support they have received, be it from coaches, friends, or family. So today, I want to talk a little about an astronaut’s support system, in particular his/her family.

Before Chris Hadfield’s latest launch, his son, Evan, wrote a great piece, called “The final frontier of a son’s awe – and abject fear,” on his experience as the son of an astronaut. Although Evan does talk about some of the cool perks of being an astronaut’s child (eating dinner with the governor-general in Paris, running into Neil Armstrong at the dentist’s office, etc.), the overall message is more somber.

Chris Hadfield (L) and his son, Evan

Chris Hadfield (L) and his son, Evan

Evan points to the Columbia disaster (where the space shuttle Columbia disintegrated as it re-entered the atmosphere, killing all seven astronauts on board) as the turning point where he went beyond looking at just the dangers of his father’s job to the long-term effects these dangers could bring to him and his family. Essentially, Evan talks about how terrible it would be for his father to die while in space—not solely because of his death (everyone knows that astronauts’ jobs are dangerous), but more so because of the media and publicity that would follow.

Here’s a fairly long chunk of the article that really drives home Evan’s point:

If [my father] doesn’t make it back to Earth, someone will shove a camera in my mother’s face and ask her to comment on her husband’s death. He will be called a hero, mythologized. Once that gets old, the media will slowly humanize him, picking apart any faults they can dig up. Someone will make a documentary. The Internet will be awash with macabre jokes. Everyone I meet from then on will have watched my father die.

If my father dies doing his job…I won’t just have to watch him explode before my eyes, I’ll have to see him explode on TV over and over and over again. Pundits will declare that he died for nothing, that NASA is a waste of money. His official 4×4 will make the covers of magazines, along with headlines like “The death of a hero” and “The end of NASA?” My family will have fresh reminders for decades to come, as people find reasons to turn his death into a topic of conversation. We will never be allowed to let go.

So my fear isn’t really that my dad is going to die. Everyone’s dad dies. My fear is that he won’t die once but a thousand times, with a million people talking about him as though he were a concept instead of a man.

Astronauts’ families clearly have to give up a lot, and they clearly have a lot to lose. Before every launch, every astronaut appoints two “family escorts,” two astronauts not currently training for a mission to act as “surrogate spouses” during launch and beyond. One family escort takes care of extended family and friends at the launch, and another looks after the immediate family. While these escorts are mostly there to help manage some of the stress that comes along with launch day, there is always a more serious side to consider.


Chris Hadfield (R) with a couple of his fellow astronauts, Roman Romanenko (L) and Tom Marshburn

According to Chris Hadfield’s autobiography, “when you’re choosing a family escort, you don’t just consider which astronaut is most likely to be able to smile and nod when Aunt Ruby gets going on one of her political rants. Mostly, you think about which astronaut you’d want standing next to your spouse if your own rocket blew up, in which case the family escort would need to stand there for months or even years” (151). Astronauts have to think about this, because their jobs are dangerous. After the Columbia disaster, the family escorts stepped in to support the dead astronauts’ families not only at the funeral but also later by “helping to set up educational trust funds for the kids and advocating for the family during the accident investigation” (152).

Astronauts do what they do despite the dangers because they truly believe that what they are working for exceeds the risks. They are lucky to have the support of their families and other astronauts not only during the darkest hours, but also in their “everyday” lives. And in the end, the families are pretty lucky to have their astronauts as well. Because as Evan puts it in his final line, “Yes, I’m terrified. But I couldn’t be more proud.”

Chris and his wife, Helene

Chris and his wife, Helene

Hear Me Tweet

Over the weekend, I made myself a Twitter. I’ve been wanting to get an account for a long time, not because I’m the witty sort who would entertain others with my allotment of 140-characters, but because I want to be entertained by celebrities’ messages. The celebrities I’m interesting in following are primarily astronauts and hockey players, along with some Penn State related Tweeters. The Olympics proved to be the catalyst for my Twitter account, both because I’ve learned about so many new athletes I want to hear from, and also because I want easy access to live time updates on my favorite events.

So today I’m going to go through a few astronauts with Twitters, and share one of their recent Tweets just for fun.


1) Chris Hadfield (@Cmdr_Hadfield), 1.06M followers

Up first is, of course, Chris Hadfield. This 54-year-old Canadian was not the first astronaut to have a Twitter, but he certainly was—and still is—the astronaut world’s most high-profile Tweeter. While Hadfield was on his six-month stay aboard the International Space Station, he would email pictures and captions to his son Evan, who would update his father’s Twitter, Google+, and Facebook accounts.

Now that he’s back on earth, Hadfield is still very active, posting several times a day. Nowadays, Hadfield’s posts tend to be science-related or an account of some of the interesting stuff he’s doing, and he does still occasionally post photos he took from space.


2) Karen Nyberg (@AstroKarenN), 97.9K followers

Though not as regular a Tweeter as Chris Hadfield, Karen Nyberg does post things on a pretty regular basis. And apparently her Pinterest is really worth taking a look at!


3) Luca Parmitano (@astro_luca), 119K followers

This European Space Agency astronaut tweets in both his native Italian and in English. It’s been a while since he last posted, but he does share some interesting stuff. Parmitano and Nyberg both came down from the International Space Station in November.


4) Michael Hopkins, (@AstroIllini), 48.1K followers

**Currently living aboard the ISS

I don’t know much about Michael Hopkins, but I do know that he’s currently in space, so check out his Twitter for pictures of Earth posted from space!


There are many, many more astronauts with Twitter accounts, but for the sake of keeping things brief I only picked a few. If you’re interested in learning about more of these astronauts, check out this article. You’ll find that most astronauts are not very creative with coming up with their handles, most of which are some variation on @Astro_[name].

If you have a Twitter, I encourage you to follow some astronauts, especially the ones who are currently in space! Also, if you know of any especially funny or interesting people to follow, feel free to let me know!

An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth

I might come back and do a follow-up piece on the Lunar Lion team later, but for now it’s book review time! For Christmas, my sister got me Chris Hadfield’s newly released autobiography, called An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything.


I found this to be an interesting and entertaining read. I wouldn’t consider it gripping—I certainly enjoyed reading it, and finished it within a few days, but I was fine putting it down and coming back later.

I’m not sure if someone with no prior knowledge of Chris Hadfield would enjoy the read as much as I did. I’ll have to ask my uncle, who had no idea who Hadfield was before he also got the book for Christmas—how he considers himself a Canadian, I’ll never know. (Side note: My cousin also received this book for Christmas, so there were 3 copies floating around my grandparents’ house.)

Besides learning about Hadfield’s life, I learned a lot of interesting tidbits about astronauts/space agencies. Here’s one that I remember off the top of my head: there are NASA astronauts who were recruited during the shuttle era (NASA sent up its last shuttle in 2011. Now, the only way up to the International Space Station for Americans is in a smaller Russian Soyuz vessel) who are too tall to fit in a Soyuz. Therefore, they will never go to space.

Another tidbit: don’t become an astronaut if your only goal is to go to space, because a lot don’t. And even those who do spend a lot more time on Earth than they ever do off of it. For more about what astronauts do when not in space (and they do a lot), check out the book.

Here’s something else I found interesting: since he was 9 years old, Hadfield based his actions off of the question, “What would an astronaut do?” Hadfield knew that the chances of him ever becoming an astronaut were slim to none. After all, there were no Canadian astronauts when he was a boy. But he decided to go through life by doing things he liked (such as being an Air Force test pilot) that would also help him become an astronaut—just in case. And it paid off. Hadfield has been to space 3 times, and he had a long and fulfilling career as an astronaut.

If Chris Hadfield isn’t your guy—or if you want more—check out Carrying the Fire: An Astronaut’s Journey by Michael Collins.


From what I’ve heard, this clocks in as one of the best books ever written by an astronaut—though it is long (over 500 pages). Just check out some of the reviews on Amazon, where the book has earned 4.8/5 stars. For comparison’s sake, Hadfield’s book is sitting at 4.6/5 stars, with slightly more reviews.  My understanding is that Collins’s book is more technical and in-depth and follows a chronological pattern, whereas Hadfield jumps through his life and applies his experiences to explore larger themes. I’ve started Carrying the Fire, but—as I’m sure you all know—it can be tough to make time for pleasure reading during the semester.

I doubt anyone else has read either of these books, but feel free to drop me a comment about your thoughts on these books, reading in general, or even astronauts in general!

The Penn State Lunar Lion Team

I thought a nice way to start the semester would be to talk a little bit about the space program here at Penn State. I’m talking, of course, about the Lunar Lion team. There’s so much that could be written on this topic, but I’m going to stick to a brief overview.


The Lunar Lion team is a participant in the Google Lunar XPRIZE. The goal of this competition—which was started in 2007—is to be the first team to send a spacecraft to the Moon. Once there, the spacecraft must travel more than 500 meters across the surface of the Moon and send certain data (including images) back to Earth. Grand prize: $20 million, with additional prizes totaling $10 million. The prize expires at the end of 2015. Keep in mind, though, that the teams’ expenditures will almost definitely exceed however much they might earn.


The ultimate aim of the competition is to fuel private competition in order to create the best product. As such, governments are not allowed to participate directly. They will, however, most likely benefit from this competition. (See my previous post on the privatization of the space industry for more on this topic.)

There are currently 18 active teams. From this list, you can see that many teams have already withdrawn or merged with other teams. The Lunar Lion team is the only student-led group.

According to this article, the Lunar Lion team is made up of over 80 students, along with Penn State faculty and researchers. I’m not going to get into the actual mechanics of the project, but if that stuff interests you, be sure to check out the Lunar Lion mission website.


Any student can get involved, regardless of major. If you have no scientific/technical skills, you could, for example, help on the PR side. Knowing my love of space, a lot of my friends have urged me to get involved. It’s something I’ve considered, but not too seriously. The idea of man-made items in space (and humans in space, too) fascinates me, but I don’t find that the actual building of these items fascinates me in the same way—I’m an appreciator, not a creator. That being said, the more I think about it, the cooler it sounds. Even to be involved in some small way in this project is a really unique opportunity, and is something that could be really fun. I think I’ll reevaluate in the fall, and maybe join then.

If you’re interested in donating to this awesome cause, check out the crowdfunding campaign. So far, 422 funders have raised $65,000 of the $400,000 goal. There are two very popular donation amounts. One is $25, which gives you 25 characters that will be digitally stored in the Lunar Lion and broadcast back to earth from the Moon. The second is $100, which allows you 140 characters that will be engraved in gold in a time capsule in the Lunar Lion. The rewards get better and better as the donation level goes up. If one extremely wealthy person felt inclined to donate $1,000,000, for example, he/she would be able to send up their own 1kg time capsule that would exist for 10 million years.

What do you think about this project? Do you know anyone who is a part of it? Will Penn State really land on the moon? And how cool would it be if we did?