By Ezra Marcus
Having one of those Sundays when the inescapable mundanity of life makes you want to go back to bed? Well, something indefinably special is happening in an abandoned McDonalds in Mountain View, California.
Keith Cowing, a former NASA employee has assembled a team to bring a retired satellite called the ISEE-3 back to life. It’s the first time an external organization has ever taken control of a spacecraft, and they’re doing it with NASA’s blessing. I guess this is what happens when retired scientists get bored?
But it gets better—their base for control center is an abandoned McDonlads that they’ve dubbed “McMoons” and they’re using “using old radio parts from eBay and a salvaged flat screen TV” to help run their operation.
“If I could come up with another absurd detail, I would,” Keith Cowing, the man behind the project told the tech site Betabeat. “Space people have a sort of arrogance. I used to be that way, but now I’m revolted by the thought that people without a pocket protector and calculator feel like they can’t be involved.”
NASA once used the ISEE-3 once used to measure space atmospherics like solar wind, before decommissioning it over 30 years ago. The satellite was once a star—it orbited the moon, and flew through the tail of a comet—but NASA eventually retired it in favor of younger, sexier satellites. Besides, NASA knew if they ever wanted it back, it’d be in the earth’s orbit in the distant year of 2014—welcome to the future.
Keith along with Bob Farquhar, another former researcher who’d worked with the satellite in its heyday, decided to use a site called RocketHub to crowdfund the necessary $125,000 for the project. The project was immediately backed by massive interest from the civilian astronomy community and they ended up with $160,00.
After commandeering “McMoons” they got to work building the computer-radio device they’d need to contact the ISEE-3. It’s like texting an ex from thirty years ago and asking for her hand in marriage. Everything worked out, and they set ISEE-3 on a new course around the sun. They’ll be absorbing solar weather information and sharing it with public.
“We’re allowing anybody who is interested and has a computer to be able to do something with the data,” Mr. Cowing said. Google is also helping the group build a site to share the data with the rest of us. Today (August 10) the satellite went on its first ever “Interplanetary Citizen Science Mission” and they livestreamed the data in a Google hangout.
Sounds like the perfect excuse to pop bottles, to this aptly-named song perhaps?