Crowd funding the UK's space industry...
Probably like many, I vaguely remember the launch of the Rosetta mission some ten years ago with its goal to land a probe on a comet. Certainly I was interested at the time, but I must admit that in the intervening decade I've really not thought about it very much at all. But suddenly the eyes of the world were back on Rosetta as it neared the time to launch its little lander.
Would Philae land successfully on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko? That in itself was an enormous ask, never mind the science that mission control was hoping it would then carry out. Too many activities these days are billed as world firsts or milestone events, but this really was something quite out of the ordinary. Any sort of landing would be a significant achievement, a significant moment in space exploration.
That landing had us all on the edges of our seats. And it was not a text book landing by any means but, as they say, any landing you can walk away from... Then, with the final resting place non-ideal, the race was on to get some real science done.
Some 60 hours later, the batteries on the little lander gave up the ghost, and Philae went into deep hibernation. But this hasn't dampened the spirits of the scientists. The concept was a success, they have a mass of data to analyse, Rosetta has a continuing mission of its own, and there is always the possibility of getting enough sunlight on the solar panels further down the line to reawaken Philae.
Indeed, I'd venture to suggest that anyone with even a passing interest in space couldn't help but be enthralled by the story of the little lander - a "will it, won't it" story that could have come straight out of the studios at Disney. There's something about the enduring fascination with space exploration that seems to transcend other concerns. And that's before we even consider the science and the spin-offs that space technology development consistently delivers.
So whilst I was initially surprised to learn that a UK mission to the moon is planned, and even more surprised to discover that it would be crowd funded, really I shouldn't have been. It is yet another sign of the growing maturity of the UK's space industry, and further evidence of the lingering enthusiasm to discover what is out there and what it all means - the answers to the really big questions. Life, the universe and everything.
Funding by public contribution is the latest big thing. It got the Caterham F1 Team to the final Grand Prix of the season in Abu Dhabi; it launched a construction toy and book series aimed at getting girls interested in engineering, and it's kick started a host of other worthy technology projects that might otherwise never have got off the ground.
So perhaps the UK moon mission is not such a surprise after all. Perhaps it represents a new and growing spirit of entrepreneurship, and an equally large desire on the part of the non-entrepreneurs to be a part of it in some small way. So let me be the first to define this new model of funding as the 'democratisation of innovation'. If governments, big businesses and traditional investors can't picture the future, there are many of us out there who can.
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