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Space Hacks

From creating remote-sensing CubeSats to analyzing aerogel: how the public is hacking into open source space exploration.

As technology shifts from a means of passive consumption to active creation, people are collaborating on a massive scale. The endeavor of is to transform that into more of a community, so that space hackers can easily connect and interact.

Amateurs were once considered to be at the crux of scientific discovery, but over time have been put on the sidelines. Despite this, citizen science is witnessing a renaissance. Agencies such as NASA no longer have a monopoly on the global space program and more participatory projects are coming to life to harness the power of open collaboration around exploring space on a faster schedule.

Instead of complaining about where our jetpack is, we can now demand to figure out how to take an elevator to space. And, while you still can't own a CubeSat as easily as an iPod, you can join a SEDSAT-2 team and learn how to engineer one.

There's also GalaxyZoo, which opened up a data set containing a million galaxies imaged by a robotic telescope. Why projects such as these are important is because robots are actually kind of dumb. Humans are able to make classifications that well-programmed machines can't. Currently, 200,000 humans are identifying over 250,000 galaxies.

NASA also needs help from amateur astronomers in finding if there are ice crystals on the Moon. They recently launched a payload the size of an SUV to impact the moon at 5600 miles per hour in order to create a crater from which a giant plume of regolith would be ejected and seen through amateur-class telescopes on Earth. If we do discover ice crystals, it will make it that much easier for us to build an outpost on the Moon by 2020.

If tinkering with spacecrafts is more your speed, the Google Lunar X PRIZE is a competition to send robots to the moon. However, you don't need to be a robotics engineer to participate. Team FREDNET, the first open source competitor, is open for anyone to join.

While the concept of open source has resonated around the world and beyond, there is still much education to be done. NASA and the ESA have made large quantities of their data open, but have yet to facilitate developer communities that allow for active contribution to the code rather than just feedback on finding bugs., a directory of ways to participate in space exploration, was created for this reason among others. Many of these projects are buried in old government websites or do not clearly communicate how someone can get involved. It is with great hope that it will not only encourage the creation of more participatory space projects, but also urge existing ones to embrace the social web.

See also: Open Collaboration Between Scientists, Communities and the Unknown

changed November 23, 2009