For those of you unfamiliar with Tim Rickard‘s daily comic strip Brewster Rockit: Space Guy!, Go Comics describes it as “a satirical, retro-futuristic comic strip that chronicles the (mis)adventures of the lantern-jawed, lunkheaded, and sometimes childlike Brewster Rockit, captain of the space station R.U. Sirius, and his crew of misfits. Under Brewster’s brave and eternally-optimistic leadership, Pam is the tough and pragmatic second-in-command, Cliff is the completely unqualified engineer, Dr. Mel is the scheming science officer, Agent X is the mysterious government agent who gives them their orders and hides their existence from the world, and Winky is the cute, luckless kid who manages to get hurt a lot.” On May 6 – 7, 2009, the world learned a little about the history of the space station R.U. Sirius and its mission, “Project Sentinel”:
The SENTINEL mission, announced by the B612 Foundation, would send a telescope into orbit around the sun in order to track small to mid-sized asteroids that could threaten Earth. NASA already works with a network of astronomers to track the most dangerous near-Earth asteroids, those more than two thirds of a mile across. They say they believe they have already identified nearly 90 percent of those deadly space rocks.
However, there is very little data on an estimated 500 million smaller objects that could do us harm – like whatever exploded over the Tunguska region of Siberia in 1908, leveling over 800 miles of forest. The chairman and CEO of the B612 Foundation, former astronaut Ed Lu, says this is a problem. He flew on the space shuttle, the International Space Station and Russian Soyuz spacecraft.
“We’ve identified and mapped only about one percent of these asteroids to date.” Lu said at a press conference. “During its 5.5-year mission survey time, Sentinel will discover and track half a million Near Earth Asteroids, creating a dynamic map that will provide the blueprint for future exploration of our solar system, while protecting the future of humanity on Earth.”
In addition to the obvious differences that Rickard’s Sentinel was fiction while B612’s Sentinel is real and the fact that R.U. Sirius is “protecting” Earth from aliens while B612’s Sentinel will be cataloging asteroids, another big difference is that the fictional Sentinel is a government-funded project while the B612 Foundation is a 501(c) 3 organization (emphasis mine):
We are at the beginning of a new era in exploration where private organizations can now carry out grand and audacious space missions previously only possible by governments. The B612 Foundation, a 501(c) 3 organization, aims to build, launch, and operate the first privately funded deep space mission – a space telescope to be placed in orbit around the Sun.
Lest B612’s (and my) point be misunderstood, the signifigance of the Sentinel mission is that it does not rely on a government for funding or administration. If the non-profit model for space exploration succeeds, the next question is: Can space be successfully commercialized?
For more information about the B612 Foundation or the Sentinel Mission, consider joining the Sentinel Mission Crew (donation not required).