Fly me to the moon

The Part-Time Scientists team is spread far and wide. But all the strings are pulled in Berlin. A visit to a bunch of space geeks.

There was a time when people were in a hurry to get to the Moon. The space race between East and West finally ended on July 21, 1969, when the Apollo 11 mission put the first human on the lunar surface. Six human Moon landings were successfully completed altogether and the final footstep on the Moon were left by Apollo 17’s Gene Cernan almost 45 years ago.

Robert Böhme

Robert Böhme

“It’s good to have something that is much bigger than you are. It helps you grow.”

Buzz Aldrin poses, large as life, in the Part-Time Scientists’ office in Berlin’s Marzahn neighborhood in the shape of a cardboard cutout. In January 2017, the team moved to their new HQ as they had out-grown their old office. The new place will house state-of-the-art testing facilities, a mission control center and clean rooms.

Team leader Robert Böhme explains “We need a place where we can hammer, be noisy and make a mess even at three in the morning. So this is just perfect.”

Karsten Becker

Karsten Becker

“You can say to any five-year-old, ‘Look, I’m building a car that will drive on the Moon!’ That’s how you get kids excited about engineering.”

If all goes as planned, this is the place where the new space race is to be won. PTScientists are aiming to be the first privately-funded team to land a rover safely on the Moon. The team doesn’t just want to be first – they want to carry out valuable scientific research on the lunar surface, and revisit the site of the final human landing on the Moon, Taurus-Littrow.

“What fascinates me about aerospace is its uniqueness. It’s not about a product you sell to hundreds of customers. Every mission is an adventure,” Karsten Becker says. Becker, a native of Hesse, is the team’s electronics engineer, responsible for developing the connection to the rover. A signal takes three seconds to get from Earth to the moon and back. It’s crazy, really. But here, it’s just another technical detail.

“We know a fair amount about the moon. We know it isn’t made of cheese and you won’t get swallowed up if you step on its surface,” says Becker, who has a young son. “For us, it’s all about advanced engineering, not prize money. I think I speak for all of us when I say that.”

Jürgen Brandner

Jürgen Brandner

“We need the Moon as a springboard for a trip to Mars.”

That’s easy to believe when you realize all the team members have been volunteering their time for years. 10 to 20 people form the core team. Altogether, the group is made up of about 70 space geeks, physicists, mathematicians and other experts. These include Jack Crenshaw, an octogenarian programmer and NASA veteran who counts calculating trajectories for the Apollo missions among his credits.

All the team members are united by the dream of launching a pair of 90 x 70 cm rovers (that look like a distant relative of WALL-E) into space, to explore the Moon.


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