When Karsten Becker uses his remote, he’s not changing the channel on his TV. He’s practicing driving a rover that will soon be on the Moon.
Two stickers decorate Karsten Becker’s laptop. One says, “You can do it that way, but it will suck.” This one is tongue-in-cheek. Nothing is considered finished among the PTScientists if there is any way it could have been done better.
That’s the DNA of this office. It’s the philosophy that unites them all.
“The first time I heard about the project, I was fascinated. There were people here who said, ‘We have here an unimaginably huge problem: a private mission to the Moon. But we’re not going to let ourselves be deterred by people who say it can’t be done.’”
Screwdrivers, a couple of wires and a package of gummy bears are lying on his desk. A recently-delivered box containing models of the rover’s bottom panels is standing on the window sill with a warm bottle of Coke Zero in front of it. In this office, where his coworkers’ desks look as if they had only just been unpacked, that’s enough to gain him a reputation as a slob.
“Einstein once said: if a cluttered desk is a sign of a cluttered mind, of what, then, is an empty desk a sign? Anyway, my desk isn’t cluttered. I know where everything is. It’s just that nobody else does.”
Like the other team members, Karsten Becker has spent his free time in recent years driving the mission forward. In 2009, just after he had heard a lecture by Robert Böhme at the Chaos Computer Camp, he joined the Part-Time Scientists(now PTScientists). In April of this year, however, Part-Time Scientists ceased to be just a hobby, and the former doctoral candidate at the Technical University of Hamburg now works full time at the new Marzahn office. He coordinates processes within individual groups or corresponds with suppliers. With his relaxed manner, the pleasant Hessian has joined Robert Böhme as the group’s face to the outside world.
Still, his gaze never strays far from the core of his mission.
That mission: the connection to Asimov, their initial rover prototype. Whether the vehicle can be steered on the Moon’s surface all depends on Karsten. A quick glance at one of his monitors might lead you to think he was playing solitaire. Just like hundreds of thousands of German office workers still do, strangely enough. In fact, the green background is the surface of a circuit board and the objects aren’t playing cards but electronic components.
Karsten Becker sits in front of a microscope. He is building remote controls for the lunar rovers.
Perhaps the sky was the destiny calling this pilot’s son. Nevertheless, there were some detours along the way. As a student at a bilingual high school, he struggled with French as his second foreign language. He flunked out—but his next high school gave him his first exposure to electrical engineering and computer science.
“As part of an exam, I controlled a robot arm. That was more my kind of thing,” he recalls with a chuckle. “I have to make things, I have to work with my hands. It has to be fun. Particularly at German universities, there’s the attitude that everything has to be accurate and boring. But in fact there’s nothing better than playful motivation. PTScientists is a great vehicle for that. 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. And I am positive that we need more engineers than lawyers or bankers.”
That also explains the second sticker on his computer. It’s the Part-Time Scientists sticker. It says:
“Hell Yeah! It’s Rocket Science!”