That's one small step for a man... one giant leap for Mankind.  - Neil Armstrong

Reaching the Moon took many small steps.  Credit:Nasa/JSC/Buzz Aldrin

Reaching the Moon took many small steps. Credit:Nasa/JSC/Buzz Aldrin

The Space Age has been all about the giant leaps that professional space explorers achieve. Landing humans on the Moon. Sending our robotic avatars throughout the Solar System. Building space telescopes to pierce the veil of time. The past six decades of professional space exploration overturned our understanding of the Universe and our place in it. 

Armstrong's humble words point out that his was just one of many small steps that produced the remarkable achievements of the Apollo Program. But little noticed and under appreciated, another set of footprints follow the professionals'. Amateurs of all backgrounds and ages explore space every day. These backyard tinkerers, students, amateur astronomers, and citizen scientists play small but very real roles to advance the final frontier. They don't just read about the latest robotic mission to the planets. They don't just watch videos of astronauts on the International Space Station.

They do the work. Normal people like you and me build space hardware, collect data, and produce real science. But you rarely hear about them. Plenty of media outlets, websites, and Twitter streams carry news about professional space exploration - space agencies and aerospace companies do a great job publicizing and promoting their achievements. But none of these sources regularly cover the world of amateur space exploration.

Small Steps To Space celebrates the amateur space explorers.

My name is Chris Casper. I am a space enthusiast and recovering technology product manager. My earliest memories of the space program weren't Sputnik, JFK's speeches, or the Apollo landings. They were the Viking landings on Mars, Voyager's flyby of Jupiter, Carl Sagan's Cosmos, the first launch of the Space Shuttle... and Star Wars. As a kid I dreamed of becoming an astronaut and living in the shiny future promised in so many science fiction novels. Those dreams faded by the time I graduated from college. My career took me into the technology industry at a time when Moore's Law was transforming entire industries and reshaping society.

But the dreams didn't go away. Let's face it. Launching the latest Windows PC isn't the same as launching astronauts into orbit. Learning about the newest features in the Android operating system isn't the same as discovering planets orbiting other stars. I continued to follow the space program as Nasa and its partners built the International Space Station and the orbital observatories made new discoveries possible.

Over the past few years, however, I noticed that more and more projects let normal people explore space. The Galaxy Zoo crowdsourced science projects let hundreds of thousands of people around the world help professional astronomers understand the shape of our Universe. Backyard tinkerers started attaching cameras to weather balloons and posting video from the edge of space to YouTube. And it wasn't just happening in the United States. Nasa and the United States naturally dominate stories of professional space exploration. But amateur space exploration is a global story. Trends in technology and society make space exploration accessible to any one, any where.

I thought this was a story worth telling. My first thought was to write a book - I'm old school. That's still the plan, but it's not enough. Most of the research I'm doing will never appear in print - there's just too much out there. I created Small Steps To Space to share all the news about amateur space exploration that I come across.

At first I'll write articles about the various projects that let amateurs explore space; I'll feed news reports from around the web; and I'll comment on space-related stuff. What this site becomes depends on you.  Your comments and criticism will shape where things go from here. What do you find useful? What's missing? Let me know.

Technology keeps getting better. The Universe keeps getting bigger. The opportunities for normal people like you and me to explore that Universe are endless.... As long as we take small steps.