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Wednesday Watercooler


A woman in old-fashioned French clothing offers a cheeseburger and fries to a black cat, under the McDonald's logo.

“I can has satellite?”

Tonight’s music video is “Blood Like Cream” by Red Fang.

Would you like fries with that satellite? Civilian scientists, operating from an abandoned McDonald’s in Mountain View, California took control of an equally abandoned satellite after a successful crowdfunding campaign. From Beatbeat:

The ISEE-3 is a disco-era satellite that used to measure space weather like solar wind and radiation, but went out of commission decades ago. Now, a small team led by [Keith] Cowing has taken control of the satellite with NASA’s silent blessing. Mr. Cowing is a former NASA employee, and now runs a handful of space news sites, like NASA Watch and SpaceRef. Sitting out in the desert one night after a documentary shoot, Mr. Cowing asked Bob Farquhar, an old NASA researcher who worked with the ISEE-3 in its glory days, what it would take to bring the satellite out of retirement.

The satellite’s battery has been dead for over 20 years, but it had solar panels to power 98 percent of the satellite’s full capabilities. In its heyday, it ran missions around the Moon and Earth, and flew through the tail of a comet. But technology gets old, and everyone happily let the successful satellite go, knowing it would be back in Earth’s orbit someday—namely, 2014. Since the satellite went offline, the team had retired, the documentation was lost and the equipment became outdated. They could still hear the satellite out there talking, but they’d need to build the equipment to talk back.

[… T]hey began a crowdfunding campaign that would beat its $125,000 goal and go on to raise $160,000. Within another six weeks, a small team was in Puerto Rico, running around Arecibo Observatory running tests, hoisting a transmitter into place with a helicopter, ready to make contact. At the outset of the crowdfunding campaign, they brought the idea to NASA, but there was no precedent on which to base an agreement. No external organization has ever taken command of a spacecraft, but NASA didn’t want to say no, so they asked the team if they needed any help.

[…] Their new control center, dubbed ‘McMoon’s,’ fit all of the criteria they needed: the doors locked, and it was free. For their console, they pulled a broken flatscreen TV from a government dumpster and fixed the power supply. The other pieces are from eBay, including a Mac laptop and some radio parts. […] Until now, when NASA wanted to conduct research, they’d collect data and disappear with it for a few months before publishing. But the data from ISEE-3 is going to be available to anyone who wants access to it. It’s a spacecraft funded by the public, and available for the public.

‘We’re allowing anybody who is interested and has a computer to be able to do something with the data,’ Mr. Cowing said.

Bonus: Consumerist reports than a Wal-Mart in Indiana is “under siege by feral cats.”

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Image by Mike Licht, released under a Creative Commons license.

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Late Night: Would you like fries with that satellite?

Kit OConnell

Kit OConnell

Kit O’Connell is a gonzo journalist and radical troublemaker from Austin, Texas. He is the Associate Editor and Community Manager of Shadowproof. Kit's investigative journalism has appeared in Truthout, MintPress News and