Saving space science – do you Uwingu?

By Phil Plait | August 10, 2012 6:53 am

Space science is in a tight spot today. Much of it is funded by NASA and NSF, and both are facing very large cuts in the 2013 US budget.

So what’s a space and science enthusiast to do? If you’re Alan Stern – head honcho of the Pluto New Horizons probe and longtime scientific researcher- you start a new company that’ll fund space science by engaging the public.

So he did. The company is called Uwingu – Swahili for "sky" – and the team includes several top-notch scientists like Geoff Marcy, Andy Chaikin, Emily CoBabe-Ammann, Pamela Gay, Mark Sykes, and many others.

The idea is to create space-related products the public will like such as games, software, and merchandise. They’ll then sell them and use the profits to fund scientific research. People will be able to submit proposals for the funding, which will be peer reviewed to ensure high-quality work. And it’s not just research: they hope to fund space-based projects, education, and other science-supporting ventures.

Right now they’re just starting it up, and they need cash to get it rolling – getting an accountant, paying for server support, and the like. They’ve calculated that they need $75,000 to get it started (none of them is taking any pay until they’re up and running), so they created an Indigogo page for donations. Once they get Uwingu started, they’re confident they will be able to get money from bigger investments and really dig into funding projects. They expect to raise millions of dollars this way.

At the moment they’re not giving out specifics about the sorts of merchandise and apps they’ll have, because they’re trying to build a little suspense. However, I’ll note that half the people on their team are a) great scientists and good people, and 2) personal friends of mine. I trust them. If they say they can do this, then they can do this. If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t be posting about it.. and I just donated, too, so I’m putting my money where my keyboard is! They have nearly $13,000 as I write this (one person just donated $5000!), and a month or so left on the campaign.

If you want more info, Pamela Gay has written about it, as has Carolyn Collins Peterson.

The team also made a short introductory video:

In fact, Pamela interviewed Alan at length about Uwingu for Science Hour, which has far more info.

I hope you’ll consider donating to Uwingu. It’s a pretty bold idea, and one I think is worth exploring.

Related Posts:

Helping save the planetary space program
Barnstorming the final frontier
Researching at the edge of space
Inside Mercury’s orbit

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Cool stuff, NASA, Piece of mind, Politics, Space

Comments (14)

  1. Steve (treelobsters)

    I chipped in a few bucks. I figure, if Pamela’s involved, it’s bound to be good.

    Kinda hoping they come up with some sort of monthly subscription program. I recently worked out that I’m paying (through taxes) roughly $6 a month for NASA. I’d be more than happy to pay twice that for Uwingu.

  2. Passer By

    Steve: it looks like one of their projects is “providing a website featuring online technology that enables users to name both features on the surfaces of bodies in the solar system and solar system bodies themselves”. More company info here

  3. F16 guy

    Jut a few thoughts after viewing the article and the video:

    1. What percent of funds raised will go to administrative costs ?
    2. The video seems long on generalities, and short on specifics.
    3. Some may be uninspired with the non-American name.
    4. Comments like this one always throw up a RED flag to many:
    “This is where the campaign is asking for your trust and your donations to allow us to setup a new model for funding space, but we can’t give you the details…”

    I’m guessing the project is a good one. The marketing, from what I’ve seen, is not.

  4. crystalsinger

    Have contributed at the ‘Citizen Advisor’ level. This is one time where I accept the ‘argument from authority’ and am buying in because of the people involved. I choose to trust that they will make a good fist of it. If you can chip in even a few bucks, that will help immensely. If you can’t afford to contribute, then please share the links as far and wide as possible. Many many small donations will get us far further than a handful of really large ones.

  5. This is a rather sad commentary on the current state of our civilization: scientists resorting to selling games and Chinese-made junk to fund their science, and using a Swahili name for the enterprise. If you want to understand the crisis we face, look in the mirror. Where is your higher vision and ideology? What about this “Uwingu” will inspire the American public? Are you scientists or shopkeepers? Don’t you see that a culturally fragmented America united only by dollar worship is a hopeless ideological foundation for large-scale scientific projects? Go study China, how they are using imperial, quasi-National Socialist memes to promote their space program, or consider the impact of German immigrants who had a similar ethos on the American space program, and realize how petty and pathetic we in the West have become. You must change your culture and your minds if you want to conquer space!

  6. jick

    It’s funny how some people are put off with “non-American” name. The Ubuntu Linux being named in Swahili didn’t stop them from being the default installation in many American companies.

    They could have named their startup Star-Spangled Bald Eagle Shooting Fireworks if they wanted, and that will be a quick way to put off people like me who want space exploration because science is cool, not because they’re interested in America’s continued dominance in space technology.

    If China is repeating the Apollo-era American mindset of “Let’s go to space because OUR COUNTRY IS GREAT!”, then it’s a reason to pity them, not envy them. We all know what happened when the excitement was over.

  7. I did my part. I contributed and wrote about it in my blog. As much as I like the idea, however, I do agree with those who say that being so vague in the description is a very bad marketing. It discourages people. If I did not know some of the people involved, I might not have donated myself. I do like the name though… :)

  8. VinceRN

    Very cool. I will chip in too.

  9. SLC

    Apropos of this post, here’s the latest posting from Bob Park on this topic. Of course, there are those in these parts who insist that Bob Park, and by extension Steven Weinberg, doesn’t know what he’s talking about.

    Launching the Mars Science Laboratory Rover on a 150,000,000 mile journey to Gale Crater on Mars was a lot easier than landing it safely once it got there, but NASA pulled the incredible landing maneuver off perfectly. After all, this was science-NASA, the part of NASA that explores the moons of Saturn with unmanned spacecraft, and uses space telescopes to discover exoplanets orbiting distant stars. The new Rover, which also answers to the whimsical name Curiosity, will explore Gale Crater for one Martian year (687 Earth days) looking for evidence of extraterrestrial life. This may call for a sample return mission, but its still the greatest quest in science. There are, however, two NASAs. Curiosity is also called on to evaluate the habitability of Mars. Thats a concession to astronaut- NASA, the larger half of NASAs budget. Astronaut-NASA dominated the space program from Apollo to the Space Shuttle and the International Space Station, which trapped astronaut-NASA in low-Earth orbit. But as I pointed out in my article in Slate Magazine on Monday, the astronaut program simply must not be allowed to control NASA as long as there is a search for extraterrestrial life.

  10. Eric

    Comment 2 from “Passer by” notes that this company has told the government that it intends to provide a commercial service that lets people “name both features on the surfaces of bodies in the solar system and solar system bodies themselves”. This is what the IAU already does – by international agreement. So how can some one decide that the are going to compete with the IAU? Are they going to start charging people to name things anything they want with no established standards? This will simply make things more confusing. I think they need to explain themselves better before asking for people’s money IMHO.

  11. Matthew Ota

    My career of choice pays only half of what it did ten years ago. I cannot afford to give money away to a cause that I support. I would gladly volunteer to do sign work for them.

  12. David C

    Well, you really know your friends when something like this comes up!? :((
    Where are all the posters now Phil???
    $10 each, from 7,0000 people would bring this to the 75,000 needed to get started. Are there not that many that breeze past BA and the many other sites that have posted on this? I’m living on $1100 OAP up here in Canada, and I could afford a one time donation, of $10, hoping to squeeze out another before the start date period ends. I’m not even American and it looks like I care more than you guys that say your interested in science. SHAME on you!!!

  13. “I recently worked out that I’m paying (through taxes) roughly $6 a month for NASA. “

    Yes, compared to other costs (such as the US military budget, which is about two million dollars per minute) NASA is peanuts. As Sagan once said when talking about the costs of space probes exploring the solar system, a penny a world for each person on Earth.

    There are some things, and basic research is one, which should be funded by the government. I think even some libertarians might agree with me on this. Things like this could backfire: Budget cut, no problem, the community will crowd-fund it.

  14. I think I’ll pass for two reasons.
    1) I must have blinked and missed where they discribed what they actually intend to do. Maybe I simply couldn’t hear it over the dull roar of faux inspirational jingoism?
    2) I’ve been to many space exhibits, and museums – and I’ve never seen anything devoted to rocket engine cycles, or the rocket equation, or any actual space science for that matter. There are plenty of pretty pictures, but no actual mention of engineering, mathematics, or science. In space books published after the 80s, these thing are completely absent too. And that’s when the books aren’t myopically focusing on ‘APOLLO ELEVEN (and a few other unimportant events)’.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


See More

Collapse bottom bar