Bill Nye wants to explore space with a Kickstarter-funded solar sail

So back around 1976, renowned astrophysicist Carl Sagan helped popularize a crazy new idea: a massive sail that could use the sun’s energy to sail across the solar system, much like a sailboat uses wind to traverse the ocean. Back then it was just a far-flung concept, but now, nearly 40 years later, it’s about to become a reality.

The Planetary Society –the non-profit scientific organization founded by Sagan and currently helmed by Bill Nye — has developed a prototype of the LightSail, and has plans to launch it on its first major mission in 2016. The project has been underway for the past few years, and according to the organization, will cost an estimated $4.5 million to complete. A large portion of that money has already been raised, and the group’s first test flight is already scheduled for May 20 — but Nye and his co-conspirators still need about $1.2 million to send the LightSail on its first real mission next year.

So what has Nye done about this funding gap? Well, as almost anyone with a bold idea seems to do these days, he turned to the crowdfunding community on Kickstarter for help. Earlier this week, the man formerly known as the “Science Guy” launched a Kickstarter campaign with a $200K funding goal for the LightSail project, with stretch goals going all the way up to $1 million.

Amazingly, despite the fact that the project has barely been live for a full 48 hours, it’s already surpassed the $200K mark — and is showing no signs of slowing down, either. In the time it took to compose this article, it went from $199,000 to well over $215,000. At this rate, there’s a good chance it’ll reach the first stretch goal ($325,000) in just a day or two. If the campaign hits the million-dollar mark before June 26, the Planetary Society will have enough money to cover the construction, testing, and deployment of the final version of the LightSail, along with the cost of operating it in space for a few months.

Obviously, you won’t receive a solar sail of your own if you pledge your support, but if you back the project now you can get your hands on some sweet Planetary Society merch (buttons, t-shirts, etc.) — as well as the satisfaction of knowing you helped a non-governmental organization launch a citizen-funded spacecraft into orbit, of course.

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