As most of you don't know, I grew up near Cape Canaveral, Florida. I've seen numerous launches of shuttles and rockets, both during the day and night. I even watched as the Challenger blew up, though most of it was lost on me at that age. Between that and my love of science fiction, is it any wonder that I'm interested in space travel. Also, does anyone have about $10 million to loan me so I can buy a trip to the ISS?
My current distance from the Space Coast hasn't dome much to dim my interest in space exploration. It'll take more than 1000 miles and broken and crippled NASA to slow me down. In other words, I'd give a LOT to go into space, just once, and be able to look back at the Earth with my own eyes.
With that, is it any big surprise that my dream job (at the moment) would be to work on something that would end up in space? I don't know if that will even happen, but I'm going to do something to move me in that direction. Right now, most of our exploration of space is done via probes and rovers. While that will hopefully change with more and more private companies heading to orbit, hope is not a good strategy. Instead, I'm going to move toward building rover technology.
Every rover built to go into space is mostly built from scratch, costing many millions of dollars. Given that each is typically given a three or so month mission and then lasts for several years is astounding. Have you ever tried running any of the Windows operating systems for a year without errors? Even without running any applications, it'll blue screen eventually.
Obviously, with my lack of experience, I'll be starting small and very slowly working my way up. The first step is to make a small, simple, do-nothing rover that can just maneuver around a bit indoors. I need to see how to program something that will move around. Step two will be to build a landing station, though it obviously won't be landing anywhere except next to my computer. Step three will be to get them talking, transferring data from the rover to the station. Steps four and five are where it gets interesting: build two more rovers and get them to work together. I actually have fourteen steps planned out, though fully expect that to change.
What I'm aiming for is a modular design where the base unit is the same for all rovers, but the modules can be changed out. An API (application programming interface) will dictate how everything talks, giving others the chance to create their own modules. The use of modules also lets the rovers be used on earth for things like disaster rescue after hurricanes, earthquakes, and tsunamis. Or they can be sent to the moon, Mars, Europa, or anywhere with a solid surface.
The rovers are also meant to be small and work in teams of a minimum and maximum size. I'm thinking the typical size will be three: one sensor, one collector (collecting rock samples on Mars, for instance), and one communicator (to talk to the others and the landing station. Even the landing stations would be modular, to allow for differences in environmental conditions.
What I would like to get out of this is an actual business, supplying others with rovers, both pre-built and with custom modules. Even further down the line, I'd like to see landing stations with repair modules, complete with 3D printing technology to build parts from either a pre-supplied material, or materials gathered from local sources. The 3D printing technology is there, just not yet out there.
Is this a long shot? Yes. Is this extremely difficult? Yes. Could I change my mind before going anywhere with this? Yes. Am I still going to work toward this? Definitely.
Step one will be fun, not that expensive, and give me very useful hands-on knowledge. Why wouldn't I at least take one small step? But will I take that giant leap? Only time will tell.