In Search of Answers

November 19, 2016
Sarah Cruddas
November 19, 2016
Sarah Cruddas

Where did we come from? What is our destiny? Are we alone? These are some of the most fundamental questions, of all humanity. Ones which have been asked for centuries before our own. Before we even began to explore the stars. Humans have wondered these things.

During the recent Expedition 16, Space Angels Network members met with some of those organizations that are helping to answer these fundamental questions. While Space Angels Network’s primary focus is investing in businesses with a clear path to financial return - as a way of enabling and making impact on the industry – there is also value in donating to space related causes, with the promise of returns beyond financial.

Among the organisations supported by Space Angels Network members is the SETI Institute (Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence). Founded in November 1984, SETI Institute is asking questions, fundamental questions about our existence, our place in the universe, and whether or not we are alone. This, along with outreach in communicating that message to the general public and the next generation. SETI is an iconic institution. “We hope that our donors get a return on investment based on the knowledge that their contributions are supporting work that is not only cool – but also fundamentally important!” Says Bill Diamond, President and CEO of the SETI Institute. “Philanthropic donations to the Institute are critically important. Most of our research is funded by NASA, with additional funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF) – particularly for our education programs. However, there is no government funding at present for our SETI endeavors, which is one branch of our research that most people identify with us.”

The work the SETI Institute is doing includes seeking to answer one of the most fundamental questions of all time: Are we alone? A question so profound, an answer would transform our understanding of our own existence, life, religion, and philosophy on a fundamental level to name but a few things. “Working with the investment community is a natural fit” adds Diamond. “We were delighted to host Space Angels here at the institute.” One Space Angels members who is working with SETI is Trevor Beattie, who donated his services to designing a new logo for the institute, and subsequent marketing campaign.

For other vital organizations, philanthropic donations are what enable them to continue their work. “Our network of donors, several of them Space Angels, are the reason why we have been able to move our work forward.” Says Danica Remy, Chief Operating Officer at the B612 Foundation. Since 2002, the foundation has worked to protect our planet against asteroid impacts. “We have led the global conversation about the need to invest in science, technology, and global cooperation that will enable humanity to protect our planet from future asteroid impacts. We have, and continue, to develop cutting-edge technology solutions to support our goal of protecting the planet from asteroid impacts.”

Whereas SETI looks at the idea of where we come from and whether we are alone, B612 Foundation is exploring our destiny. Will we go the way of the dinosaurs? And what can be done to protect us from an impact of that level. “We can be smarter than the dinosaurs and our donors know that only space based technologies will enable it. We are building those technologies.” Adds Remy. It is believed that a space based solution for asteroids is within our collective reach and the threat of asteroids is real. Even the recent launch of the NASA OSIRIS-REx mission to the asteroid Bennu is looking at the possibility of potential of asteroid impacts and the security threat. The second ‘S’ in the anagram, which makes up the mission name, stands for security.

Founded in 2002, B612 Foundation is working to provide a non-government voice on the risk, options, and implications of the current asteroid data we have. This means they serve as an informed source for the international community, leading the global conversation about the need to invest in science, technology, and global cooperation that will enable humanity to protect our planet from future asteroid impacts. “We also educate the general public, the scientific community, and world governments about planetary defense from asteroid impacts”, says Remy. It might sound like science fiction now, something reserved for Hollywood Movies such as Deep Impact, but the threat of asteroids is real. The 2013 ‘Russian Meteor’ in Chelyabinsk has help to remind us of the possibilities of impacts. It is a case of when, not if we will get hit.

To secure the funding needed for these noble initiatives, organizations also turn to prize competitions, which help to drive through modern achievements in understanding the world and the universe around us. The idea is nothing new, it was the incentive of the Orteig Prize – a reward of $25,000 - which would eventually see Charles Lindbergh fly across the Atlantic in 1927, although his success came some years after the original deadline. Later, this inspired the Ansari X-Prize, where SpaceShipOne became the first private vehicle to successful travel to space in two successive weeks. Which in turn laid the foundations for Virgin Galactic, who are now aiming to one day send private tourists to space.

“High net-worth people, particularly in the tech sector, understand how science enabled their success. They are inspired to give back, and to inspire the next generation to enable further success”, explains Pete Worden, former Director of the NASA Ames Research Center and current Director of the Breakthrough Prize. Like other privately funded prizes, the Breakthrough Prize provides the public “with a focus for science and its importance.” The foundation of which is that knowledge is humanity's asset. It defines our nature and it will shape our future. With initiatives in fundamental physics, life sciences, and mathematics used to drive forward developments. “To have a growing global economy and increasing quality of life requires new scientific discoveries now. The Breakthrough Prizes are an important incentive.”

Included in the Breakthrough Prize, is a private initiative to look for intelligent life elsewhere in our universe. Known as the The Breakthrough Initiatives, working with Stephen Hawking and Russian Entrepreneur, Yuri Milner, involves a $100 million program of astronomical observations searching for intelligent life beyond Earth. This is in addition to a $1 million competition to design messages representing Earth.

Above all else, these organizations are exciting and are shaping our future. “It involves that enormous universe that we can see, but not reach. It’s our next frontier of exploration and discovery. Just like the ‘New World’ for the explorers of the 15th century. And just like deep oceans and tall mountains are to more contemporary explorers ” Says Diamond. And these are endeavours which can only be made possible by philanthropic donations such as those by Space Angels Network members.

There’s never been a better time to get involved in commercial space. If you’re ready to start investing in private space companies, we invite you to apply for membership to Space Angels.

Sarah Cruddas is a Space Journalist, Broadcaster and Author with a background in astrophysics. She is the voice of space on British TV for channels including Sky News, Channel 5 and ITV. Specializing in space exploration she has reported on the industry from across the

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