Space science is in a tight spot today. Much of it is funded by NASA and NSF, and both are facing very large cuts in the 2013 US budget.
So what's a space and science enthusiast to do? If you're Alan Stern - head honcho of the Pluto New Horizons probe and longtime scientific researcher- you start a new company that'll fund space science by engaging the public.
So he did. The company is called Uwingu - Swahili for "sky" - and the team includes several top-notch scientists like Geoff Marcy, Andy Chaikin, Emily CoBabe-Ammann, Pamela Gay, Mark Sykes, and many others.
The idea is to create space-related products the public will like such as games, software, and merchandise. They'll then sell them and use the profits to fund scientific research. People will be able to submit proposals for the funding, which will be peer reviewed to ensure high-quality work. And it's not just research: they hope to fund space-based projects, education, and other science-supporting ventures.
Right now they're just starting it up, and they need cash to get it rolling - getting an accountant, paying for server support, and the like. They've calculated that they need $75,000 to get it started (none of them is taking any pay until they're up and running), so they created an Indigogo page for donations. Once they get Uwingu started, they're confident they will be able to get money from bigger investments and really dig into funding projects. They expect to raise millions of dollars this way.
At the moment they're not giving out specifics about the sorts of merchandise and apps they'll have, because they're trying to build a little suspense. However, I'll note that half the people on their team are a) great scientists and good people, and 2) personal friends of mine. I trust them. If they say they can do this, then they can do this. If I didn't think so, I wouldn't be posting about it.. and I just donated, too, so I'm putting my money where my keyboard is! They have nearly $13,000 as I write this (one person just donated $5000!), and a month or so left on the campaign.
The team also made a short introductory video:
In fact, Pamela interviewed Alan at length about Uwingu for Science Hour, which has far more info.
I hope you'll consider donating to Uwingu. It's a pretty bold idea, and one I think is worth exploring.