Explore space from the comfort of your home
Spacehack.org helps people to find ways to contribute to space research. No formal training is required
Ariel Waldman at Inspirefest in Dublin recently: ‘I want to give people the same realisation that I had a few years ago in discovering that I could contribute to space exploration in a meaningful way despite not having a background in it.’ Photograph: Conor McCabe Photography
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to help find a previously undiscovered black hole? Or to pave the way towards human exploration of Mars? Well you can, and you don’t have to leave your computer to do it.
In a bid to make such projects more accessible, US-based Ariel Waldman set up the websiteSpacehack.org as a directory of ways to participate in space exploration, whether or not you have formal training in science or engineering.
Waldman started the directory in 2008 after she worked with Nasa and saw the many ways people could contribute to space work. She wanted to put those opportunities at people’s fingertips.
Among her favourite initiatives listed on Spacehack.org is Galaxy Zoo Radio, “a project that asks for help classifying black holes at different stages so as to better understand their evolution, but what’s really exciting is that you might be able to discover black holes that haven’t yet been seen by anyone,” she says.
Another is the multidisciplinary Austrian Space Forum, which focuses on generating research that could help humans one day live on Mars. “They look for volunteers from all different disciplines to help navigate all the challenges that are anticipated to crop up when humans are on Mars: everything from testing spacesuit materials to how we could search for life, to psychological aspects,” says Waldman, who was in Dublin recently to speak at the Inspirefest2015 conference.
Other projects listed on Spacehack.org include Moon Zoo, which asks people to classify lunar craters; Milky Way Project, which asks people to find bubbles, star clusters and unusual characteristics in infrared images acquired from the Spitzer Space Telescope; and Spacelog, which asks volunteers to help put information from early space flights online in order to digitally preserve those historic missions.
Waldman, who has been honoured at the White House for her work, says there was an overwhelmingly positive reaction when Spacehack.org was set up. “I think a lot of people saw it as a signal of an emerging area,” she says. “It has been encouraging to see new projects emerge from completely different disciplines within space exploration, [such as] astrobiology, astrophysics, rover design and satellite experiments.”
Her wish for the space site directory is “modest”, she says. “I simply want to give people the same realisation that I had a few years ago in discovering that I could contribute to space exploration in a meaningful way despite not having a background in it,” she says.
“I think by having a fresh set of eyes from those who solve different types of problems across a variety of industries inside and outside of science, new concepts often emerge and go on to influence science in unexpected ways.”