A Spacecraft With A PBS Pedigree

There’s a spacecraft that had some folks holding their collective breath for a few days and the ties to PBS are pretty cool.

The Planetary Society’s LightSail™ spacecraft successfully launched aboard a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket out of Cape Canaveral on May 20. A few days ago, the spacecraft went silent due to a software glitch. Now LightSail is back in contact and some very anxious engineers are elated.

What connection does this spacecraft have to PBS?

The Planetary Society CEO is none other than Bill Nye, who issued the following statement: “Our LightSail called home! It’s alive! Our LightSail spacecraft has rebooted itself, just as our engineers predicted. Everyone is delighted.”

LightSail is a citizen-funded project by The Planetary Society (the world’s largest non-profit space advocacy group), and is designed to harness the sun’s energy using Mylar sails. These solar sails propel the spacecraft in the same fashion that a sailboat uses wind as a means of propulsion.

Interestingly enough, Carl Sagan proposed solar sailing back in the 1970s and now his idea has become the dream of many. If it works, solar sailing could be a means of interstellar travel in the future.

So we’ve got an idea from Carl Sagan, host of the hugely popular 1980 mini-series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage, brought to life by a group headed by the Science Guy himself. That’s a pretty impressive PBS pedigree. If someone told me that Sid the Science Kid had his hand in there somewhere I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised.

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