Dedicated to the proposition that if grownups can fling things into the cosmos then kids can too.
How many kids are out there who are not so far under their parents’ thumb that they would do something crazy without asking permission or even telling their parents they are are doing it?
I’m not talking about anything illegal, immoral or unethical. Kids do that all the time without asking permission. That’s neither new nor cool.
I’m talking about something really crazy, like putting a satellite you design and build into orbit.
Hell, back in the 1950’s the Russians put the first man-made satellite in orbit. They didn’t ask our permission; they just did it. After that, we in the U. S. A. busted our hump to do it too.
Then we imagined going to the moon and back. We didn’t ask anyone’s permission. It wasn’t illegal, immoral or unethical. We just did it.
So, what if a bunch of kids could do the same thing without asking their parents’ permission? You can always ask for forgiveness later.
All the original Sputnik did was transmit a Morse code message on 20.005 and 40.002 MHz for 21 days until its batteries ran out.
You probably won’t get permission to do that, but only because those frequencies are off-limits. Get yourself a ham license and it would be legal for you to transmit on 21.005 and 144.005 MHz. You could get that license in less than 3 weeks. When I was 13 I went from not knowing what a MHz was to passing my ham license in about 2 weeks.
Getting up to speed is pretty easy as long as your parents let you discover by trial and error which end of the soldering iron to hold it by. And, you’ve got to promise not to accuse your friends of bullying if they laugh if you don’t realize the “l” in “solder” is silent. You learn by getting into trouble and getting out of it, not by avoiding embarrassment.
Once you learn how to program an Arduino, etch a circuit board, solder stuff onto it, bend some metal and punch some holes then you pretty much have what it takes to build a satellite. Get a few friends and the parts together and building a satellite as complex as Sputnik 1 is not much more than a weekend project these days. (Actually, if you put a rock in orbit you could call it a satellite, but for our purposes, let’s call that cheating.)
Designing a satellite to do something that has never been thought of before will be a bit harder.
That said, my money is on you coming up with an idea before NASA because: A) you don’t know what has been done before, and B) NASA is too busy working on ideas they have already thought of.
Can’t think of anything that hasn’t been done before. Think again. How about a Reese’s Pieces vending machine so the next time E. T. is in the neighborhood he doesn’t have to pester little girls? I bet that hasn’t gone up yet. You could call it art.
It must be expensive, you might imagine.
Well, if you think that, you’d be wrong. Hams in your neighborhood probably have all the parts you need in their junk boxes, and what they don’t have somebody will give you.
How do you get your satellite into orbit, you might ask.
Right now, that might be beyond you without some adult help, but if you build it then NASA or Space-X or somebody will launch it.
You see, just like ships need to weigh a minimum amount to keep from tipping over, rockets are designed to launch payloads of a specific minimum weight. Whatever lifting capacity they can’t sell they fill up with ballast, which might as well include your satellite.
Also, when a new rocket is being tested, commercial customers don’t want to run the risk that their expensive satellites will blow up on the launch pad. That’s why on Feb 6, 2018 a Falcon Heavy launched Elon Musk’s first Tesla roadster.
Why is that roadster a piece of space debris orbiting the Sun right now instead of in a museum?
Well, the rocket was designed to launch something and — worst case — Musk can afford to lose his Tesla in a ball of fire. That said, I’m betting main reason Elon did it is because he can.
And, the main reason he can do it today is that in the past he once imagined he could.
I’m also pretty sure he also did it for the publicity. (Elon, if you’re reading this, am I close?)
In my case, I’m wondering if there are any kids out there who’d like to put a satellite into orbit just to see if they can.
I just hope they don’t want to do it for the publicity or to burnish your resume to get into college.
The reason I want to know that is because you will find that when people see you do something cool they will want you to do more of the same thing.
That can keep you from doing something else even cooler.
If I remember the story correctly, in high school, without their parents’ permission, Elon and his brother Kimbal envisioned starting a video game arcade in a local mall. They ran into a snag, however, when the landlord discovered they weren’t old enough to sign a commercial lease.
Had they used that experience to get them into a good business school, perhaps eventually they might have come up with Chuck E. Cheese.
Instead of that, Elon and Kimbal created a company called Zip2 that they sold $307 then moved on to create a company that is now known as Pay Pal that went for $1.5 billion.
Then, Elon went on to build businesses that drilled horizontal holes into the ground, electric powered cars and the means to fling them into space. After PayPal, Kimbal went to the French Culinary Institute in New York and became a chef.
Similarly, if you get known too early as a builder of satellites, it might be too easy for you to get sucked into that industry. But, if you don’t seek fame or use it on your resume, you might become whatever you want to be, like a builder of steam powered cars, the driller of vertical holes in the ground, or a tool that can launch steam powered cars deep into the earth. Shoot water down far enough and you get back a great gush of steam. I don’t know about you, but I’d rather drive a steampunk car than a solar one.
(BTW, Chuck E. Cheese still got built, just by Nolan Bushnell, who had previously created Atari, which employed two Steves (Jobs and Wozniak) who started Apple.)
Now, just imagine you and some buds build a satellite that gets launched into space.
You’re eating dinner with the family when a news story comes on the radio.
Headline: Satellite Launched that Nine Kids Designed and Built
NASA says, “These kids had a genius idea.”
The President says, “This is what will make America truly great again.”
Your dad says, “See, those kids have something going for them. You are smart enough to get into Princeton and you spend all your time hanging out with those kids from the vocational-technical school.”
You say, “Dad, actually, I was one of those kids who built the satellite. And, most of us don’t go to that to VoTech; they’re just letting us use their resources. Anyway, why would I want to go to Princeton. Half the kids there would burn themselves with a soldering iron and all of them are there only because they can’t think of anything better to do.”
Then you pause for dramatic effect.
After a very savory silence, you say, “Mom, I hope you don’t mind if I skip dessert because I’m due back at the lab. Fabrication is done and we’re doing integration testing. We’re putting a repeater on the moon that anyone can use. Low earth orbit is nice, and the ISS is cute, but the moon is such a better platform. We’re sure we can do it, but we want to beat the Chinese.”
Then you grab a piece if cake anyway and scoot out the door without waiting for their reaction.
Of course it does.
Who am I?
My name if Brooke Allen. I’m a guy with a girls name. You can find some things about me at BrookeAllen.com and other things by snooping around on the internet.
For our purposes, the main thing you should know is that I was born in 1952. At age 13 I became a ham radio operator (callsign: N2BA). Today, I would have been in a computer club, but back then becoming a ham is what people like Nolan Bushell and I did instead. Although by 1966 the first ham-built satellite was already in orbit for 5 years, I wasn’t into that. I was into shortwave radio and talking to people all over the world.
I got into the hobby because I spent so much time on the telephone talking to my friend, Mike. My dad said, “This has to stop.” Today, of course, they would have just gotten me my own phone, but back then that was not an option. It was not their problem to solve, but mine, and my parents were not about to give me money for anything except doing chores.
That’s when I discovered there was a club where people built their own stuff. Mr. Brobst showed Mike and me a three page description in a handbook of a walkie-talkie that we could build. The problem was that before those tjree pages made sense, we had to understand a few hundred pages of stuff in the front of the book.
Learning enough to pass my first test took a couple of weeks. Instead of building the walkie talkies, however, I decided to build a shortwave receiver from a kit and a transmitter from scratch using parts ripped from a TV and some sheet metal the people in machine shop at school showed me how to bend and drill.
By the time I graduated high school I’d talked to about 7,000 people all over the world, some of whom I’d later meet in person. I like the hobby so much, I wanted to be a TV repairman like my friend, Dennis, who did that after work while I worked as a produce clerk at A&P.
My teachers convinced me I should apply to college at least as a back-up plan.
Since I got in to college, I went.
I’m not sure what I would have happened had I chosen to be a TV repairman. My ham friend, DJ, did that for a while until people stopped repairing TVs. Then he started repairing cell-phone tower equipment. When some colleagues and he spun out to start their own company his stock options made him richer than he or I ever imagined being as a kid.
My path was circuitous: BA math, drop out of MS in Computer Science, programmer at American Airlines, a small systems house, Mobil Oil, Morgan Stanley then Merrill Lynch. When I though I’d found something interesting in stock market data, I then became a trader at Merrill, then C. S. First Boston and eventually I started my own business that was, in essence, a hedge fund.
The interesting thing is that I owe it all to ham radio more than anything else I did in high school.
For example, the trading strategy that made all the money from 1988 through 2014 when I retired was based on the same kind of filtering technology hams use to pull signals out of noise.
But, the most important thing I learned was that if I can imagine it I can make it.
Why did you create this web page?
This whole thing started a couple of years ago when I was talking with a ham radio buddy of mine.
I said that I though our hobby was more amazing than ever. After all, we’d put up a ton of orbiting satellites carrying amateur radio (OSCARs) and even got a party balloon carrying amateur radio (PBCAR) to go around the world twice.
Still, I told my friend, our hobby is dying because it is old guys like us that are doing all this stuff, not young kids like we were when we were young kids. Once we’re gone, the hobby folds.
My friend believed the problem lies with “kids these days.”
He teaches Physics at an Ivy League School and I once asked him what was wrong with his students. He said that while some of them are smart and actually want to be there of their own volition, many are not. Half the students, he said, were dumber than boards (meaning lacked common sense). And, he said, he is loath to give anyone less than a B because he doesn’t want to deal with lawyers hired by parents.
We hadn’t spoken since before COVID so I just recently asked him how he is doing.
He said it was his first pandemic, so he didn’t know what to expect, but so-far-so-good.
I told him my current project is to save ham radio and proposed a meeting to discuss it.
He wrote this: “I would be happy to talk about saving ham radio, although I must confess that that sounds like a tall order. From what I have seen, kids today in many ways have far fewer advantages than we did. Specifically, from an early age, they are placed on this success treadmill, which seems to leave little time for self-directed learning—i.e., random screwing around. There is a rocketry club at (redacted name of an Ivy League School), which does seem like something the students do because they want to, rather than simply being another way to burnish their resume, but even there, one of the major topics of discussion has to do with landing summer internships. ”
He concluded by saying, “When we meet I would also like to talk about the possibilities of putting up a satellite, which I am sure is easier than saving ham radio.”
That got me thinking. I am sure he is right, except that the problem with “kids these days” seems to be “parents these days.” Don’t you agree?
I’m sure it is true that there are more parents telling their kids that the world is flat than there are parents telling their kids that they can prove it is round for themselves by forgetting about getting into college and putting something into orbit instead.
But, there has got to be at least a few kids out there who could imagine doing what I’m imagining them doing. Hopefully here in the U. S. A., but certainly in China.
If a bunch of kid teams step off the treadmill and put real effort into it, I bet at least one team could even beat my Physics Prof friend into space.
I’m one of those kids. What do you want me to do next?
I don’t believe you are one of those kids. You sound like all the other kids who want someone to tell them what to do.
What I want you to do next is put a satellite into orbit without asking me any more questions; I’m busy. That said, if you get something to leave our solar system that would be cool too.
After you’ve done it then I’ll believe you.
Until then, I suggest you look for someone who knows how to do it.
When you find that person, rather say, “Do you have any internships?” or even “I want to put a satellite in orbit, what do you want me to do?” I suggest you ask, “I want to put a satellite into orbit, what would you do if you were me?”
Whatever you do, if some institution has a program that involves you working for them for free then don’t bother applying. They will be so inundated with kids who care more about burnishing their resume that the chance you’ll get into the program are lower than the chance you and some friends can put something into orbit. And, I say that even if your friends are slackers (as long as you aren’t).
Some people say, “Don’t take ‘no’ as an answer.”
I think it is better to not even ask the question and just do it.
The only thing that can say ‘no’ definitively is Mother Nature (i.e. The Laws of Physics) and she has already said, ‘yes.’
I’m an adult and I know how to put a satellite into orbit. If I create an internship program, can you help me find applicants?
You seem to be missing the point here.
If some kids call up and want your help then you might want to help them. Otherwise, this isn’t about you.
Brooke, will you help us design and build a satellite and get it off the ground?
No. I’m busy.
May I send you an email?
You don’t need my permission to send me an email. I’m Brooke@BrookeAllen.com
Will you answer it?
Maybe. Even if you get past my spam filter, I do get a lot of emails.
If I don’t answer don’t let that stop you.
That’s a good rule of thumb when you write to anyone.
May I call you?
Sure. 1-707-BROOKE0 (1-707-276-6530). If I don’t pick up, leave a message.
Why don’t you let us post comments on this story?
Because then I have to moderate them. Try using an open annotation tool. I prefer Hypothes.is because it was created by my friend Dan Whaley (who also got his ham license). But there are alternatives.
Brooke, what do you really want to do?
A whole bunch of other things, but not this.
I learned long ago that there was nothing I couldn’t make happen as long as: 1) I didn’t do it, 2) I didn’t pay for it, 3) I didn’t need to get credit, and 4) I didn’t need to benefit.
You see, energies, abilities, money and time are all finite whereas my interests are infinite, which means if I have any hope of getting anything done myself, everything else I might wish into existence has to get done by other people.
Good ideas have an independent right to exist. If you have a good idea and you’re not willing to do it then tell the world about it so someone else can do it. To do otherwise is selfish. People who patent ideas and put them on the shelf should be shot (with Nerf guns, just to be clear).
Technical Example: A long time ago I posted a note on a ham radio discussion board. I explained that I recorded my signals from the ham radio contests I participated in, but what I really wish I could record was the entire spectrum so instead of playing back only my own signals into my headphones, I could play back everything everyone had done into my receiver and tune around.
At the time I expressed my need, it was possible to do this, however it was very expensive and only people like the military and spook agencies could afford it.
My post got no replies and I forgot all about it.
That was until May 17, 2003.
I was wandering around the vendor booths at the Dayton Hamvention when I found Expanded Spectrum Systems selling a product they called a Time Machine that cost $135. It was a kit that I had to build myself that I could connect to a VCR that did exactly what I had been wishfully thinking about in my post.
The designer was there and I asked how he got the idea.
He said, “Someone on a discussion board said he wished he had one. Nobody replied so I said to myself, ‘I bet I can do that.'”
I told him about my post and he said, “Yea, it could have been you.”
Business Example: In 2004 I changed how I hired people. I wrote an article about that in Science Magazine in 2006. See: https://www.sciencemag.org/careers/2007/11/hiring-dysfunctional-job-market
Neither my editor nor I got any reaction to it. As far as I know, nobody read it.
That was until we had our Columbus Avenue block party a few years later.
I’m at #11, and Eric from #10 across the street found me and said, “I’ve been meaning to thank you.” It turns out he had read my article, realize he was hiring all wrong, adopted some of my ideas and a few of his own, completely staffed up his business differently so as to make it a success and then sold it for a tidy sum. Now he had enough money to retire but he started a new venture instead.
So, apparently at least one person read my article. It did some good and he didn’t ask me for help or bother me with the details. He just did it. I was nothing more than a catalyst and perhaps a kick in the pants.
This is like that.
Yea, good luck.
If you’re a kid, I have faith in you.
If you’re a grown-up on a treadmill, not so much, but good luck anyway.
Write with the frequency where I can hear your satellite; sooner rather than later.
P. S. Hey Elon: If by chance you read this, what do you think of this hypothesis:
If you only teach kids “about” stuff but never “how to” anything then you will create an abundant supply of labor for your endeavors.
But, if you teach them to “want to” do things, and they come asking you “how do I do it?” then you will be creating competitors.
When you are gone, as a legacy, would you rather leave behind fans who haven’t accomplished much or competitors who can knock the covers off?
I wonder… if you’re willing to set the markets on fire by Tweeting “gamestonk,” do you think you might tweet “cosmos4kids.org” and see what happens? Maybe some of your younger fans who can’t get a brokerage account would rather just be like you rather than merely follow you, trade as the imagine you might, or dream of working for you.
Whadda ya say?
(Remember, this is cosmos4kids.org, not .com)
P. P. S. My son was studying physics on the 4th floor in Molson Hall his freshman year in 2006, if that means anything.