2010 is the biggest year for life on Mars since 1898.  Or 1955 or whenever the last 'life on other planets' craze hit the public.  
But unlike those other times, there is good reason.  This year, over 20 different papers have invoked the chance there may once have been life on Mars in their work.    There is now all kinds of data discussing water on Mars, minerals on Mars and even that the soil might support life.  The Journal of Geophysical Research-Planets alone has 64 papers on Mars so far this year.
In the alchemical days of building your own circuit boards, you had to swirl hand-masked boards in noxious chemicals to burn away the layers you needed. Now, you can just pay by the inch. It's a glorious time for using home-designed printed circuit boards (PCBs).
Say you have a curious kid and you want to confirm the planet is round to, you know, show off how experimental results can verify mathematical ones.    If you are with the Brooklyn Space Program group, you build your own spacecraft, of course.

But it isn't that easy.    You can put a camera on a balloon, sure, but your camera needs to survive 100 MPH winds, temperatures of -60, speeds of 150 MPH and maybe a water landing.  To find it if it does land safely, you need to have a GPS attached that transmits coordinates to a cell tower.

Here is their story:
The prospective launch of the ambitious and successful Copenhagen Suborbitals rocket received a lot of press. The subsequent launch-abort and delay to spring may not seem an upbeat thing.  In a broad sense, though, it is.
Micro air vehicles (MAVs) under development by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research are  on track to evolve into robotic, insect-scale devices for monitoring and exploration of hazardous environments, like collapsed structures, caves and chemical spills.
If Big Science complains about U.S. budget skepticism in the future, they are going to have to answer questions about the James Webb telescope.  It is currently 3 years and $1.5 billion over budget with no end in sight.   The latest projection, 2014 and $5 billion, has been greeted with so much derision that even the people behind the project in government have demanded an outside panel to oversee the boondoggle.
Autonomous Satellites

How smart does a satellite have to be to function? I'm working on the design of the Project Calliope satellite, and near as I can tell, it doesn't need a brain. All it needs is energy, sensors, the ability to yell or shut up, and a small stuffed animal.

Let's back up a bit. My picosatellite kid has a computer core and a Radiometrix transmitter. I unpacked it and then discussed how the pieces went together. But how minimal can I go?
Time for a little space business by a citizen scientist-- an ordinary scienc-y person who just happens to be building a personal satellite in his basement.  I'm at the Space Weather Enterprise Forum today, where scientists and policy makers try to tackle space weather awareness from a real world 'money&lives' stance. On Friday I'll write it up in my main column, but for now I'm going to connect these issues with some 'Project Calliope' concerns.

When launching a personal satellite, who will be at fault if there is trouble with the satellite?
The Phoenix Mars Lander is dead, says NASA.  Last week, the Mars Odyssey orbiter flew over the Phoenix landing site in final attempts to communicate with the lander but no transmission was detected and since Phoenix also did not communicate during 150 flights earlier this year, NASA declared its mission over.

The latest image transmitted by the Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter showed what appears to be ice damage to the lander's solar panels.
So yes, I'm launching a satellite.  And an $8K Personal Satellite needs a brain. But which brain? IOS' kits includes the BasicX processor; for Christmas I received the Arduino kit so beloved by DIY folks. Both are potentially flyable.  Let's compare.

BasicX-24 ( 32K memory, requires 20mA plus up to 40mA I/O loads, operates at -40C to +85C. Programmed in BASIC (ugh) via serial cable.