Bicyle Astronomy is a project to bring sustainable stargazing to the people via a bicycle-propelled telescope.
Bicycle Astronomy: People Powered Sidewalk Astronomy
My Project: I want to build an ultra-lightweight and compact telescope (I'm calling it the Veloscope Bicycle Transportable Telescope) that can easily be carried on a cargo bicycle, so I can engage in spontaneous and sustainable sidewalk astronomy--hosting public viewings of the night sky all around my city of 13,000 people. Bicycle Astronomy’s goal is inspire people with the night sky (the telescope), and at the same time, challenge them to consider more sustainable transportation (the bicycle).
The Lightbulb: The owner of my local bike shop once described the bicycle as the perfect tool for social transformation. I remember thinking: That's the way I feel about the telescope! What if we got those two together? Can the night sky inspire thoughts about sustainability?
Why it Matters: Even the most jaded adults become wide-eyed children when looking at the moon, or Saturn's rings. The night sky has inspired artists, scientists and explorers since ancient times to push the threshold of knowledge and creative expression.
And yet most people have never looked through a telescope, or had someone explain what's twinkling overhead. How many scientists, artists, and inventors are we losing because we haven't introduced them to the source of incredible wonder that is the rest of the universe? With Bicycle Astronomy, I want to change that, giving every person in my city the chance to look through a telescope and, at least for a moment, be able to gaze in wonder at the grandeur of the universe.
Most people who observe the universe through a telescope come away with a profound appreciation for both the vastness of the universe and the smallness and precious rarity of our own planet. I want to inspire people to think creatively about sustainability, but also concretely. This is the role of the cargo bicycle in the project. In other words, the premise—and promise—of Bicycle Astronomy is to both inspire and ground that inspiration with an example of tangible action.
What I Will Do: Bicycle Astronomy will hold public astronomy events at least once a month from May to October in the city of Geneva and surrounding area. Star parties will rotate to different locations around the city, giving everyone a chance to attend without getting in a car. Venues will include the city's network of "pocket parks", the Community Center and the Boys and Girls Club. A conscious effort will be made to bring Bicycle Astronomy to all Genevans regardless of race or class. The night sky is a universal inheritance.
Star parties will of course be advertised online via Twitter, Facebook and Bicycle Astronomy blog. But it's critical to go beyond social networks to get the word out to everyone in the community. That's the job of Bicycle Astronomy's bike-portable sandwich boards, which I will drop off at high-traffic locations around town as soon as a party is scheduled.
The cargo bicycle itself will serve as its own roving advertisement; cars pass by all day one looking like the next, but a cargo bike (unknown in my city), carrying a telescope and a sign that says "Star Party Tonight at Brook Street Park!" will turn heads.
Each event will be documented online, including numbers of people who come out, time-lapse sequences of the events, comments by participants, and other exciting ways so that supporters like you can experience the project vicariously.
Spreading the Idea: Geneva is just one city. I hope however that the idea behind Bicycle Astronomy catches on in other places. Truth is, we need a lot of bicycle astronomers, an army of them, to reacquaint humanity with a natural vista we have taken for granted. Okay, they don't all need to be on bicycle, but wouldn't it be nice? One of the goals of Bicycle Astronomy is to make the designs for the Veloscope: Bicycle Transportable Telescope, freely available as a autocad file. People anywhere could download these plans, take them to a local CNC routing or laser cutting shop, and have a kit cut from a standard piece of plywood. Hardware and optics are available off-the-shelf from many online dealers, and Bicycle Astronomy's website will host instructions and lists of parts.
What We Need Funding For: Bicycle Astronomy needs funding for development and production of the prototype Veloscope (Bicycle Transportable Telescope) as well as for the cargo bicycle, sandwich-board signs, posters, and other supplies needed to run the star parties. $5000 is the minimum I need to run the project as I envision it. Anything above that will augment the core project technology as well as sustain the star parties farther into the future.
Rewards: In addition to my ten years of experience as an amateur astronomer and telescope-maker, I also have a background in graphic design, photography and publishing; I've put all these hats on and developed an excellent selection of rewards. Many of the rewards will carry Bicycle Astronomy's unique "Astronaut on a Pennyfarthing" logo on them, co-designed with graphic artist Leslie LaBrecque. You can see some images or mock-ups of Rewards below.
Community Partners: Bicycle Astronomy will work with several community organizations including the City of Geneva Parks and Recreation Department, the Boys and Girls Club, the Geneva City School District, and others. Geneva Community Projects, Inc., a 501(c)3 charitable corporation managed by a board of directors of Geneva area residents, will serve as fiscal sponsor. GCP is dedicated to building and renewing the strengths of the Geneva community through projects designed to promote the public good and uplift the human spirit. GCP will provide Bicycle Astronomy with fiscal sponsorship and oversight, ensuring transparency and accountability for the project, and will work to strengthen the reach of Bicycle Astronomy by helping to coordinate with other local organizations. In addition, part of your sponsorship amount is tax deductible.
Three essential things: a lightweight telscope, a cargo bicycle, and sandwhich board signs. None of them new inventions, but none of them put together in quite this way before.
Definitely a newtonian reflector. That's the least expensive, simplest and easiest to build optical system. 8-10" is my target aperture, just enough to see things in the relatively light pulluted area I'll be mostly working in. Beyond the optical system, the biggest question is the mount. As the video portrays, the most obvious contender is some kind of truss dobsonian. The truss means that the traditional tube is broken up into three parts that break down: mirror box (lower tube), focuser and secondary assembly (upper tube) and trusses to connect them. The dobsonian means that it's a simple mount that moves in altitude (up and down) and azimuth (left and right), rather like a canon. There are a lot of considerations: size and weight, obviously, but also height and eyepiece position, ease of set-up, collimation (alignment of the optics)...I'll post more about the telescsope design on my blog.
The part that is tax deductible (because a 501(3)(c), Geneva Community Projects, is serving as a fiscal sponsor) is the portion of the sponsorship amount minus the actual cost of the rewards involved. I will include a letter/receipt with the rewards that can filed along with your tax returns.