Humanity’s humanity star

Love it or hate the Humanity Star that was launched during the successful test of Rocket Lab’s Electron rocket is about to end it’s show by burning up in the atmosphere. No need to go and put your bicycle helmet on though (unless you’re riding your bicycle of course) because it’s not expected to drop anything on anyone’s head. The launched raised the hackles on a few backs but it also inspired a lot of people to look up, which I think, on the balance, means it was a great idea. One of our big objectives at Milky-Way.kiwi is to get people to look up and see the stars and appreciate the universe, to learn more about what they are seeing and try to protect it. During the stardate that we went to in Staveley, in the South Island a few weeks ago, we were lucky enough to observe the Humanity Star as it was briefly visible just below Orion on the first night.

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Rocket Lab’s Electron (Credit: Rocket Lab)

The Humanity star was launched on 21 January from Rocket Lab’s launch site on the Mahia Peninsula on the North Island of New Zealand. The stated intent was to get people, all over the world, to:

look up, ponder humanity’s place in the universe and think about how we can work together as one species to solve the challenges facing us all. www.thehumanitystar.com

The satellite orbits the Earth about every 90 mins and travels about 8km/s. It’s made up of 76 highly reflective panels on a geodesic sphere that’s made of carbon fibre. The diameter of the sphere is about 1m and the whole thing weighs 10.34kg. The atmospheric drag of the Earth is slowing it down a little quicker than anticipated and it is expected to de-orbit tomorrow.

The Humanity Star can be looked upon in three ways, a celebration of Rocket Lab’s success and a great advertising tool, a way to get people to look up and see the stars or finally, and a bit negatively, a light polluting snub at the world that says I can do whatever I want, as some commentators have suggested. I’ll address the last point first. Initially I was less than enthusiatic about the Humanity Star as I thought it would be particularly annoying to deep sky imagers who already have to deal with a bunch of satellites making trails in their images. After seeing it at Staveley and seeing that it wasn’t all that bright and wasn’t really causing any problems at all, I got a lot more positive about it.  I don’t think that people should just launch whatever they want into space but, in saying that, I think both the Humanity Star and Elon Musk’s Tesla have done a lot to get people interested in space. Hopefully a few of them will be interested enough to study space sciences and maybe, just maybe, one of them will one day become a kiwinaut.

It’s obvious that the Humanity Star was a good thing for Rocket Lab to showcase the successful launch of their rocket so I imagine there was an element of advertising to it. What better way of demonstrating to the world that a commercially viable launch option was ready and waiting, than to put something into orbit that people can see. The other motivation, and the one I think that is pretty awesome, is to encourage people to look up at the night sky. From our cities you can hardly see any stars at all and it takes something as bright as the International Space Station whizzing past to remind people that there is actually some amazing sights up there. If we encourage people to look up and they don’t see much and then they find out what they are missing, then we suddenly have a value proposition for the dark sky campaigns.

Let’s hope that the Humanity Star will be forever kept in high regards and it’s memory will stay alive in our hearts. It is the symbol of New Zealand’s first launch and has created numerous discussions about the night sky, perhaps inspired a few people to study space sciences and hopefully it will encourage a few people to work in the space related industries. Above all, though, it pointed out to people across the entire world to look up and appreciate the beauty of the night sky.