Ariel Waldman strives to keep science accessible and fertile for all through numerous innovative “massively multiplayer science” initiatives. One of her most notable projects is the founding of Spacehack.org in 2008. She is also the Global Director of Science Hack Day. Here’s a bit more background on Waldman and the interview she gave Not Impossible:
Waldman has delved deep into the worlds of space exploration since her days as a graphic designer when she landed a job at NASA through a volunteer query. She is now on the council for NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts and is the author of What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There. She has been awarded prestigious grants and fellowships for her work and, along with Spacehack CTO Lisa Ballard, launched Spaceprob.es in 2015, cataloging the machines made by humans that are currently active in space.
Waldman’s site explains that through Spacehack.org, they “curate awesome projects that allow for anyone, with or without a formal science background, to make an active contribution to the furthering of space exploration and knowledge.” Below, Waldman offers a couple examples of the kind of citizen-science projects that can be found in the Spacehack directory:
“Galaxy Zoo Radio is a project where you can discover supermassive black holes and along the way help astronomers learn how and why they often form in the center of most galaxies. By making observations of supermassive black holes and their host galaxies in radio and infrared wavelengths, more data can be created, making ever more accurate models of how supermassive black holes work.
University Rover Challenge is a project for people to design and build the next generation of Mars rovers that could one day work alongside astronauts. There is more than one way for a rover to traverse the Martian surface and perform a variety of tasks. For example, people have prototyped rovers that are more akin to tumbleweeds than automobiles. The University Rover Challenge is open to university-level students worldwide.”
Science Hack Day is another one of Waldman’s projects that is much in the spirit of Spacehack and her belief in inclusive science. Science Hack Day is an international phenomenon that has occurred in 60 events in 22 countries to date, with more on the way. The format is a two-day event which runs overnight in which scientists, designers, and amateur enthusiasts come together to create prototypes within 24 hours. I asked Waldman to share an interesting outcome of Science Hack Day:
“My all-time-favorite hack story from a Science Hack Day is of someone who created a ‘Beard Detector.’ This was essentially a device to detect when someone needed to shave. I thought this was a very amusing hack, but I wasn't quite sure what it had to do with science. But, we leave Science Hack Day very open for people to create whatever they want. When the ‘Beard Detector’ was demoed, a particle physicist in the audience thought that it was a genius way for how to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber. So, following Science Hack Day, the particle physicist created a student-led research program on how to detect cosmic rays in a cloud chamber, using the original technology someone had used to detect if they needed to shave or not. This is what I love about Science Hack Day--it's about the collisions between people and ideas and creating sparks for future collaborations.”
In 2011, Waldman delivered her “Hacking Space Exploration” keynote at the O’Reilly Open Source Convention, which you can check out here. In this talk, she uses the term "disruptively accessible" as a descriptor and goal for powerful citizen science projects and initiatives. I asked her to further discuss this concept in relation to Spacehack and science in general:
“Disruptive accessibility, to me, is really about evaluating if an effort is just increasing accessibility for some versus increasing accessibility for nearly everyone. The aim of Spacehack.org is to provide a range of projects, some of which are more accessible than others. For example, anyone with access to a web browser can help discover new black holes without any tech or science background, but building a next generation of Mars rover, while more accessible, I wouldn't consider it "disruptively accessible.” To me, the most successful example is hackerspaces/makerspaces that you can find in just about every country across the globe. They are the foundation to making so many other endeavors successful by providing not only a space to create and learn new things but a community to go along with it.”
Here’s an excerpt from What’s It Like in Space? Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There by Ariel Waldman, illustrations by Brian Standeford, published by Chronicle Books, available on Amazon:
Waldman also gave us this glance into her future:
“I have a lot of projects in the works at any given time, but what I hope is next for me is traveling to Antarctica to image the microbial extremophile life that lives under the ice there. Stay tuned!”
You can follow Ariel Waldman on Twitter @arielwaldman.