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Racing Solar Sails Around the Moon

Solar sail Some Artemis Society members were brainstorming an idea to have a solar sail race around the moon. This has been tried before, but unfortunately, the folks pursued the idea were unable to secure corporate sponsorhip for even a single spacecraft. Part of the problem was the nature of the program -- a solar sail race would be a slow-motion event as seen on television -- but it seems their major problem was that they didn't find the right person to handle marketing the program.

A few years ago Arthur C. Clarke edited a book entitled Project Solar Sail, with a blurb on the back about the proposed project. Science fiction writer David Brin was one of those who hoped to make it happen.

Perhaps because of the lack of interest from corporate sponsors, the old group are pursuing the idea of getting government funding for a solar sail race around the moon. However, there's not much hope any government will do it; there's no political reason for a government to pay for a solar sail race, and there are many political reasons for them not to.

So if we want to make it happen, we need to look again at private enterprise, specifically professional sports and events like the America's Cup sailboat race, to determine why these things have such widespread appeal. The answer is:

  1. Home Team as a substitute for war heroes in human psychology
  2. Stories (games) based on familiar characters and setting
  3. Ability for sports fan to be an expert on the subject
  4. Familiarity with the setting because most of these sports are things anyone can do, on a personal scale
  5. Wagering

From a financial standpoint, wagering is probably the strongest appeal. However, a successful solar sail race would need to address all these elements. On the last round, the presentation of the solar sail race was too impersonal. To sell entertainment, ya gotta have people in the picture.

Building a spacecraft for a race like this is not a killer effort. Almost any college engineering department could handle it, with the students providing the slave labor and the profs providing the technical guidance. Obviously Artemis Society International has the expertise needed to design such a spacecraft, though we're currently too spread out to build it. Ditto for the National Space Society.

How to do this, one step at a time:

The key is finding someone to organize and lead the effort. The leader would need skills in management and marketing; and it would be much better if he were not a rocket scientist. Technically-oriented managers tend to concentrate too much on the hardware instead of the people who make it happen.

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