A Creative New Concept for Funding Space Exploration and Astronomy

by Nancy Atkinson on August 4, 2012

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An impressive group of individuals from the space and astronomy community have teamed up to create an innovative, out-of-the-box concept to help solve what appears to be a growing problem for researchers, scientists, educators and students: how to get funding for research and other ground-breaking projects. With NASA and National Science Foundation budgets shrinking, a new start-up called Uwingu (which means “sky” in Swahili) will be working to provide ways to keep space science thriving.

Founders of the project include notable names like Alan Stern, Andrew Chaikin, Pamela Gay, Geoff Marcy, Mark Sykes, David Grinspoon, and Emily CoBabe-Amman.

Stern told Universe Today that the group’s initiative is not so much in response to the current government funding troubles, but a way to expand resources for the space and astronomy community, which is “just smart business,” he said.

However, it is an indication of changing times. “We couldn’t do this without the internet, frankly, which provides a new avenue for reaching people,” Stern said.

Additionally, Stern contrasted space and astronomy research, which mainly relies on NASA and NSF grants, to medical research, which has multiple lines of funding venues such as pharmaceutical companies, hospitals, and the hundreds of medical foundations such as the American Cancer Society, in addition to government grants.

While Stern explained that he couldn’t yet reveal all the details of Uwingu, he did provide a few hints.

“The idea is to provide outstanding, innovative and cutting edge products,” he said. “We won’t just be accessing space and astronomy people who want to give to a cause, but will be accessing the general public, which is a much bigger marketplace.”

Dr. Pamela Gay wrote about Uwingu on her Starstryder website, saying “Their ideas are so elegant that I can’t believe they haven’t already been done.”

While the team is still finalizing some of their concepts, part of their reticence is building suspense. “Just like any new product line, it’s part of building suspense, just like Apple does when they release a new product. But we have a whole series of projects in work, and we want to do it right, too.”

Stern said part of what they are doing is to be a safety net for the space and astronomy community and part of it is to do new things. But, he added, when people have the greatest need is probably a good time to launch a project like this.

Uwingu is looking to raise an initial $75,000 through their Indiegogo site (similar to Kickstarter) to get the company going. After that, they hope to be self-sufficient and build enough resources to be a source of grants and funding for space and astronomy research.

“We are asking people to go the Indiegogo page, take a look and consider participating, and then to please pass it on to others you know.” Stern said. “For everyone 10 people you send it to, maybe one will contribute. This needs to grow organically by people passing it on through the internet. We’re hoping the space and astronomy people will help give us a start, but when it launches with the real first products out into the broader public, we think it will be a real breakout.”

“If we can get that message across, I think it will fly. I have faith in this,” Stern added.

To contribute to the project, or to learn more about Uwingu, visit the company’s Indiegogo page: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/180221

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also is the host of the NASA Lunar Science Institute podcast and works with Astronomy Cast. Nancy is also a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

DidacticVenal71 August 4, 2012 at 3:59 PM
Daniel Suggs August 5, 2012 at 1:56 AM

Swahili? A minor language, native tongue of, at most, five million people in parts of five countries in East Africa. I don’t think that is going to inspire donations. This seems like a good idea, so why not a name that will inspire?

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