I'm a nice guy launching a nice little musical satellite.  But what if I were a super-villain?  What if _you_ were a super-villain and launching your own satellite?  Think-- and listen (or read) too-- how much damage can you do from (pico)-space, my latest podcast for "365 Days of Astronomy".  And now let's expand on that.

The podcast itself is a re-recording of the Ignite! talk I gave at SpaceUpDC, itself based on a question raised by a Science20 reader.  Namely, do we risk disaster by letting any yahoo launch their own satellite?

Put another way, WWDDD?
What would Dr. Doom do?

But let's expand the question of 'doom'.  I do not think you could launch a 200-gram short-lifetime Tubesat that is a risk to other satellites or to Earth, both for technical reasons and because there are humans in the loop-- people who test and examine these payloads before launch.

However, after much thought, I do believe you could launch a satellite that was offensive to people.  There are many ways this could be done, and all fall into the category of 'art' rather than 'science'.  I offer as a first example, the outcry against Laika, the first dog in space, being sent to die in space.  One of the Laika mission scientists, Oleg Gazenko, stated:
Work with animals is a source of suffering to all of us. We treat them like babies who cannot speak. The more time passes, the more I'm sorry about it. We shouldn't have done it... We did not learn enough from this mission to justify the death of the dog.
For an example with no scientific overtones, we have Buzz Aldrin's comments on his 'communion ritual in space':
I had intended to read my communion passage back to earth, but at the last minute Deke Slayton had requested that I not do this. NASA was already embroiled in a legal battle with Madelyn Murray O'Hare, the celebrated opponent of religion, over the Apollo 8 crew reading from Genesis while orbiting the moon at Christmas. I agreed reluctantly.
Therefore, I agree a mission could be created that was technically 'safe' but morally challenging.   This is the bastard side effect of encourging invention and citizen scientist, that we risk when we open the doors of science to anyone.

But this is not a risk due to science, it's a risk due to living.  We already face challenges in daily life.  Drawing the wrong cartoon, burning a flag or a book, flashing a tit on TV-- somehow these 'outrages' spark massive controversy and preoccupy us.  Perhaps it's part of being human.  So while my podcast talks about the dangers of a malicious satellite, I think the true challenges will be far more abstract.

My prediction?  There will be three great 'disasters' in space during the next decade.  One will be the first civilian death in orbit that shocks the general public.  The second will be an art/concept piece with religious overtones that offends many.  And the third will be backlash over a tacky advertising stunt in space.

Until next week,

p.s. right now you are reading my commentary on the summary of a transcript of a podcast that's a rerecording of a talk given at a conference in response to a comment on this blog.  Here is the real thing.  Enjoy!

Launching Project Calliope in 2011
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