Citizen Science Ventures into Space

Citizen Science Ventures Into Space


By Crux Guest Blogger | May 21, 2013 10:04 am

by Kiki Sanford

Inside a nondescript office building in Mountain View, California, a gathering took place recently that might have been a glimpse into the future.

At first, the people, like the building, didn’t offer many hints of what that future might look like. They came from all walks of life: young, old, students, businesspeople, men and women.

Then they started talking.

Rockets, microgravity, space planes, moon bases, gas stations in orbit – if you didn’t know better, you would think you had walked into a science fiction conference. But, in this case, reality is much better than fiction. These everyday people were learning how to design science experiments to take place in low Earth orbit.

The majority of attendees at the Space Hackers Workshop weren’t scientists. They were part of the growing movement of citizen science, experiments performed in a distributed way by non-specialists, tinkerers, and the scientifically curious. And now, building on the growing market for private space travel, citizen science is edging toward a new frontier: space.

How to get to space

Though the future of federal funding for American space travel is questionable, the space industry is currently experiencing incredible private sector growth. No fewer than twenty-three different vehicle designs capable of carrying passengers into space or low Earth orbit are currently in development or actively being tested. Virgin Galactic and SpaceX are the most visible of the contenders due to their recent successful test flights. Consequently, the opportunities for citizen scientists, engineers and entrepreneurs to be part of humanity’s expansion into space are set to increase dramatically while at the same time becoming much more affordable.

The workshop, held May 4-5, was brimming with talks explaining the ways in which citizen scientists could get involved in space research and exploration.

In a presentation about the Lynx, a two-seat, reusable launch vehicle currently in development by XCOR, Khaki Rodway ran down a long list of scientific experiments that could fit into the 20 kg and 120 kg payloads of the suborbital spaceplane: everything from electronics testing for future technologies to be used on Earth or in space to remote imaging to help authorities fight forest fires more effectively.

Citizen scientists can design experiments individually or as part of a team and have them sent up as payload in spaceplanes like the Lynx. XCOR, expecting to make much of its profits from payload use, has laid out guidelines for payload development on their website. Payload cost will vary according to company and amount of space required, but XCOR quoted the range of $5,000 to $500,000. If you want to go to space alongside your experiment be prepared to shell out at least $95,000. NASA’s Flight Opportunities Program acts as a middleman to help scientists find flights for their projects.

Another option is to launch your own satellite. Small satellites called CubeSats are available to anyone, although academics, companies, and amateur satellite builders are currently the primary market. The present cost of sending a CubeSat into low-earth orbit ranges between $100,000-200,000 for construction and launch. However, several open-source components, including variations on arduino programming boards, alongside advancing smartphone technologies, are bringing down the cost for building and developing experiments.

Finally, there’ll be competitions. Initiatives in the mold of the XPRIZE have had success in soliciting research ideas from individuals and companies, and space research is following suit. Citizens In Space, a project of the United States Rocket Academy, has announced a High-Altitude Astrobiology Challenge which will award cash prizes of up to $10,000 to ordinary citizens for the development of devices to collect microbes from space. The group has also said that they plan to sponsor 100 citizen science experiments to fly on suborbital missions in the Lynx spaceplane.

The questions such research could answer are nearly limitless. For example, it’s thought that studying small aquatic invertebrates called waterbears (or tardigrades) might give us insight into human biology in space; synthetic biology could design useful microbes to transform waste into energy for long space missions; protein crystallization studies, sometimes easier in microgravity, have already led to pharmaceutical breakthroughs.

From basic biology and chemistry to more instantly applicable technology, there is more unknown about space than known at the moment, and a lot of room for ordinary people to iterate upon ideas.

Small businesses join the action

In addition to science, attendees were there with an eye toward business. Entrepreneurs discussed opportunities like 3-D printing in space, mining of objects in the solar system, manufacturing on the moon and Mars, and space tourism. Jim Kerevala, CEO of Shackleton Energy, and Jason Dunn, the Chief Technologist for Made In Space, both made the case that small-scale experiments in sub-orbital or orbital payloads will be the driving force behind new business development in the fledgling sector of space services.

For instance, the process of soldering, essential to electronics and metal work here on Earth, is not effective in microgravity. However, questions related to the soldering process can be tested easily on sub-orbital flights (and more cost-effectively than on the ISS). Anyone able to solve the problem of soldering in space and commercialize the solution stands to make a lot of money as more business moves off-planet.

However, new space-related businesses do still face an uphill battle. Sentiment about who is qualified to explore space needs to change if funding is to find its way into the hands of space-entrepreneurs. Currently, space advocates and entrepreneurs are thought of as “early adopters” whose projects often produce looks of incredulity and giggles in conversations with the uninitiated. Persistent communication programs will be a huge part of making space science and exploration more mainstream and fundable.

States step in

Implicit in all the presentations was the need for access to space: more rockets and space planes run by more companies are required before space really becomes a democratic place. But, as NASA steps back from its role in exploration, several states see the potential financial revenues and are stepping in. California, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, New Mexico, New York and Texas are all currently discussing or planning spaceports. Texas and Florida, in particular, are working to entice space-related companies to base enterprises in their states. It looks as though Texas might get both SpaceX and XCOR, but it is still unknown who will be the victor in the state race for space.

As for the future vision of the space industry as a whole, that differs depending on who you talk to. Some see it as a place for industry or science, while others imagine that it will be populated by tourists.

In either case, in the near future – within just a few years – trips into suborbital space will be a daily occurrence in many parts of the U.S.

And the future of space will be a product of the combined efforts of everyone who labors to create it. (As Jim Kerevala of Shackleton Energy put it, “The supply chain doesn’t exist yet!”) The same way that ordinary people with extraordinary ideas have painted the current cultural and commercial landscape on the surface of the Earth, citizen scientists will be particularly important for the development of humanity’s expansion off of the planet. In conjunction with professional scientists, they will be among the first wave of explorers to shine a light on the darkness that surrounds us, and among the first experimenters to have a shot at testing the widgets upon which future space tourists will depend.

Dr. Kiki Sanford is a specialist in neuroscience and behavior. When not studying her toddler son, she tries to explain science and technology to anyone who will listen. She also hosts the weekly kickass science show This Week in Science, and harbors secret dreams of vacationing on the moon.

Image by BiterBig / Shutterstock

What is Drone Journalism?

Drone Journalism Takes Off in Missouri

“How could you use a drone and portable camera to help mankind?  Could you report the news on a fire, medical emergency, science experiment, traffic jams, rescue at sea and other things that could be a benefit to the community?  This are the questions and experiments that Kids Talk Radio will be exploring.  We invite you to read this news report.”

Kids Talk Radio Student Backpack Journalism Project-Based Learning.

Tanya Roscorla
ON MAY 16, 2013

Tanya Roscorla and Paul Williams bring you the story. 

Here at the University of Missouri, you can take a class where you can learn how to fly a drone. But it’s not for the reasons you might think.

Students in the Science Investigative Reporting class fly drones near prairie fires and snow geese so they can really show what’s happening.

“Nothing is a replacement for knocking on doors, interviewing people, looking at data and just, like, putting the pieces together that way,” said Brendan Gibbons, a senior in Science and Agricultural Journalism at the University of Missouri. “But what this does do is provide a different, um, perspective on things from above.”

Technically known as unmanned aircraft systems, drones capture video through a GoPro mounted with a kitchen sponge and rubber bands. 

“It really marries a couple of different technologies,” said Matthew Dickinson, system administrator and instructor as well as the “Drone Guy” in the Information Technology Program at the university. “You’ve kind of got the aerodynamics, you’ve got the electronics, you’ve got the media side, the computer science side and then how to fit it all together, and at the end of the day, you just have to have fun with them.”

When drones crash, the student journalists replace busted parts and take more serious problems to the IT instructor, aka the drone guy on campus. But whether they can fly at all for professional journalism has yet to be determined by state and federal law.

“At the moment, it’s really a grey area, so trying to work within the law of what people know, there is no, you know, hard definition of right or wrong,” Dickinson said. “Some people get away with doing stuff, some people don’t. There’s no real, um, concrete guidelines to follow.” 

“Being among the first to try to apply this technology to journalism, we have a responsibility to do it right, to do it ethically, responsibly, legally, um, and with a public service motive,” said Bill Allen, assistant professor of science journalism at the University of Missouri.

“I was very skeptical at first,” Gibbons said. “Um, what I knew about drones wasn’t really good so far. I’d only heard about drones through the covert drone wars in Pakistan, Yemen and Somalia. And those were the only associations I had with it.” 

But as this class explores the ethics and applications of drones in journalism, they’ve discovered that drones are valuable tools that could have other civilian applications. 

“At the end of the day, I can see the likes of, you know, a major package delivery company using this to deliver a package to your doorstep,” Dickinson said. “Or somebody needs medication in a rural area; why can’t this pick it up rather than them having to drive to the pharmacy? Or I want a pizza delivered; my drone drops it off.”

Global Warming Becomes Global

Global Warming becomes Global (Cabo Verde Tenth Island Project News)


By Samuel Kushner-Lenhoff, Poly High School, Kid’s Talk Radio, Science Journalist.

 Editor’s Note: Samuel is now at student at the USC School of Communication and Journalism.  As a high school student he studied about Cape Verde and global warming.  He got a great opportunity to interview the mayors of Cape Verde as high school student.  We hope that after graduation he will mentor other students training at Kid Talk Radio.

     Some might wonder what the city of Long Beach and a volcanic chain of islands off the coast of West Africa have in common. Since Cape Verde is a place where unexpected climate change can mean the difference between life and death, this nation is directly affected by global warming.  On November 18, it was the pleasure of the city of Long Beach to welcome two mayors from the Cape Verde islands.  The Mayor of Fogo, Sr. Eugenio Veiga, and the Mayor of Brava, Sr. Camilo Goncalves, began their weeklong trip to the state of California by answering environmental questions.  These questions from US students were delivered by the founder of Kids Talk Radio, Mr. Bob Barboza and two Long Beach High School reporters.  

     “We live in a global world…. (Cape Verde) can feel the trickledown effect.” says Mayor Sr. Eugenio Veiga, “Even islands that never get rain are getting it, and it is bad because it is scaring people.”  Cape Verdeans rationalize these unusual occurrences by considering the fact that they could possibly be a participant in a climate cycle.  These unusual climate occurrences are increasingly important because Cape Verde is heavily dependent on agriculture.  This magnifies the effects of drought on the native population.  

    “Everything we do has a preventative measure…we aim at educating kids at a very young age” says Mayor Veiga.  Cape Verde’s unique approach to solving the climate problem is to educate children as to the importance of the environment and climate change.  Appreciation of natural resources is a theme that is also reiterated by laws preventing actions such as catching a sea turtle.  Dramatic national resources such as a large reef necessitate a policy of strict protection.  It is this national emphasis on the environment that causes Cape Verde to dedicate a section of each international meeting to environmental issues.

    With a major concern about poverty alleviation, it is funds that limit the necessary research and enforcement of environmental activities.  As a result, the Cape Verde mayors believe one of the best actions the US could take would be to participate in a joint research project in Cape Verde.  This historic meeting is a major step for the global political activism that is needed for environmental cooperation.



Sam Kushner-Lenhoff

Poly High School Journalism

Long Beach Unified School District

On Special  Assignment for

Kid’s Talk Radio

Student Backpack Journalist: Global Warming and Cape Verde

Cabo Verde Press Conference: Long Beach City Hall


By Yanel Mayorga, Wilson Classical High School, Kid’s Talk Radio

 Editor’s Desk:  Yanel Mayorga was one of our first student backpack journalists that was trained at Kids Talk Radio Long Beach.  She has gone on to college and continues to write.  She has a deep understanding of Cape Verde and we hope to have her join our young adult team as we continue our STEAM Plus program for 2013-2015.

The 8th. Districts Long Beach Councilwoman Rae Gabelich made it possible for the second Cabo Verde and USA Kid’s Talk Radio Press Conference about Global Warming to take place at City Hall in the city of Long Beach. The two mayors from the Cabo Verde Islands were officially welcomed to the City of Long Beach, California.



On Tuesday, November 18, 2008, the Mayor of Brava, Sr. Camilo Goncalves and the Mayor of Fogo, Sr. Eugenio Veiga, visited California and held a press conference with Kids Talk Radio at Long Beach’s Civic Center. Deputy Joao Alves and interpreter Armindo Goncalves accompanied these officials from the Republic of Cape Verde; who are also from Cape Verde. One student reporter from Wilson High School and one student reporter from Poly High School were selected to attend the conference and interview the visitors with their own questions as well as some questions from students in the state of Georgia and students in New York. The press conference covered important issues that are occurring in the Cape Verde islands and that have occurred as well.

    The Cape Verde Islands are a group of islands located in the North Atlantic Ocean, North of Senegal on the coast of Western Africa. The islands became independent from Portugal in 1975 and have demonstrated to be one of Africa’s most stable democratic governments since 1990.

The Republic of Cape Verde has been faced with many weather and climate struggles throughout the years. When asked if they have noticed any changes in climate in the past three years, they responded: “From my perspective, nothing extraordinary has been witnessed in cape Verde that would lead me to believe there has been a dramatic climatic change in Cape Verde. But on the other hand we have noticed slight changes in climate patterns. We are now witnessing, although at a small scale, tornadoes or heavy episodic periods of rain that only happened thirty to forty years ago in the Cape Verde islands; we are seeing these phenomenons reoccurring again.  For example my island, island Brava is perhaps the most temperate in terms of mild climate, beautiful climate, comfortable climate… but more recently, we have been noticing that the island of Brava, the climate is much, much hotter than it used to be before,” stated Mayor Goncalves. “So that is one of the evidences that we have, because it is something we can feel and witness So then yes, although very small, but it is there and it is notable.” Mayor Veiga elaborated to Mayor Goncalves answer, “We live a global world, and so any global change has a global impact like a trickle-down-effect. Cape Verde is a small country in terms of geography therefore it’s very much insolated. For example, when [I] returned from my studies [in Romania, where I went to college], I felt so hot. I had never felt so hot before. The impression I get, is the temperature increased over time.” Cape Verde has been a drought-ridden place for many years throughout history, but as Mayor Veiga later reported, from June 2008 until now, there has been an increase in rain.  This is great for the islands, but the inhabitants seem a bit afraid. “We never expected it!” interpreter A. Goncalves added.

Drought is believed to have been a cause of many fatalities in the past at the Cape Verde Islands. Mayor Veiga introduced his ideas and opinions on the subject. “We didn’t directly experience this period of famine and drought.” The period was during the colonial rule of the Portuguese, and Mayor Veiga believes that the unpredictable weather and the political standing of the islands caused the drought and its outcomes. The islands at the time were a colony that was dependent on foreign countries for food and supplies. Because this was about the same time of World War II, supplies were short. All the components added along with the natural drought increased the number of casualties around this period. During this time, the people affected by the drought and famine were so desperate that in the capital of the Cape Verde Islands, Praia, located on Santiago Island; many people went into an executive office building to beg for food. The building became overwhelmed with people in a very short period of time, that the entire building collapsed and killed all of the people in the building. “It was a dark period of time,” Deputy Joao Alves lamented.

The dark times may have been an unfortunate period but in many cases it also served as a teacher for the Republic to be able to deal with other obstacles as they present themselves. “Based on oral history, oral information handed down to me by my grandparents, the volcano [located in Fogo] erupts about every hundredth year. I think it was in the late 1950’s we had a major volcanic eruption,” Deputy Joao Alves stated. The republic cannot conduct many studies nor has much information recorded because of their lack of equipment and funds. NASA has a weather station located in Fogo and most of the information becomes available through NASA’s station and research.

The Cape Verde islands have many coral reefs that are inhabited by unique plants and animals only found in the Cape Verde reefs. Many scientists are conducting research for medicines with specimens from the reefs and some believe that global warming is hurting the reefs. The mayors explained what action is being taken to protect the reefs and their rare occupants. “Today, the government is introducing more and more legislation in that area. For example every alien has a specific [natural protection] area,” Mayor Goncalves stated. “There is also a strong political and educational component that comes from this, the need to educate people on these natural resources.” Cape Verde also made an agreement with Holland and other countries to protect and promote the need to preservation these natural wonders. There is also a fifteen-year plan to have a technical team make sure the reefs are protected. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough funds to put the plan in action; the plan would cost about one million dollars, of which only fifteen percent is available.

Cape Verde prevents pollution as much as possible, there is little to no pollution from manufactures. They take a preventative approach on just about everything. They try to educate the children about the issues at a young age. As far as protection goes, changes have been made. In the past, people would eat turtles, which led to the endangerment of the species. Now, if a civilian is caught with a turtle, he or she will be fined. “No one messes with the turtles.” Interpreter A. Goncalves stated. Later, after the interview he added, “The U.S. is helping by patrolling our waters so that they aren’t being over-fished by foreign countries.” Apparently, the U.S. Navy makes sure that the waters aren’t being fished because in the past, countries such as China, have fished in them without Cape Verde’s knowledge.

As far as what the United States can do to help the Cape Verdeans preserve and continue to do well is to be able to provide aid in case of a tsunami, volcano eruption, and other natural disasters. They also wish the United States to pair up with Cape Verde and conduct further studies to document and preserve the environment. They are also interested in student exchange programs and partnerships between schools. There is also a lot of poverty on the island and the mayor’s are hoping that with help from the United States and other foreign countries poverty may be eliminated. The Cape Verde island officials visited California with hopes of building a relationship with the United States and to educate others about the needs of preserving the natural resources in the vulnerable islands.


By: Yanel Mayorga


Wilson Classical High School

Kid’s Talk Radio Science Journalist

On Special Assignment

 Grade: 12

November 18, 2008