Hackers Want to Put an Amateur Astronaut on the Moon

The latest plan concocted by hactivist types to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is pretty weird.

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The latest plan concocted by hactivist types to protest the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) is pretty weird. Reporting from the Chaos Communication Congress in Berlin, the BBC's David Meyer describes their scheme to create an Internet in space in order to skirt around the impending threat of Internet censorship. The hackers want to use amateur astronauts -- unlike the man pictured above, Donald Pettit, who is an actual professional American astronaut -- to get the job done. Not to be repetitive, but it's a pretty weird scheme:

The project's organisers said the Hackerspace Global Grid will also involve developing a grid of ground stations to track and communicate with the satellites. Longer term they hope to help put an amateur astronaut on the moon. …

The hacker activist Nick Farr first put out calls for people to contribute to the project in August. He said that the increasing threat of internet censorship had motivated the project. "The first goal is an uncensorable internet in space. Let's take the internet out of the control of terrestrial entities," Mr Farr said.

Now, it's worth pointing out that people brag about lofty goals and far-fetched plans all the time at conferences. Sometimes they follow through and these schemes become a reality; often they do not. This particular plan, however, is already in the works. Armin Bauer, a 26-year-old "enthusiast" according to Meyer, describes the Chaos Computer Club's plan for a decentralized, non-profit Internet alternative as a "kind of reverse GPS" that would enable anybody to set up a ground station that would connect with purpose-built, low-orbit satellites in order to communicate with others. The Internet, after all, is basically just a web of connections between a bunch of computers. And while the plan is feasible, experts say it's complicated, both for technical and legal reasons. "There is also an interesting legal dimension in that outer space is not governed by the countries over which it floats," one professor told the BBC. "So, theoretically it could be a place for illegal communication to thrive. However, the corollary is that any country could take the law into their own hands and disable the satellites."

The bit about putting an amateur astronaut on the moon is pretty novel, but the idea to create an alternate Internet is not. Just last month, news emerged that hacker types on Reddit are working on building a crowd-powered web called Meshnet. Though it lacks the  very sexy-sounding goal of launching satellites into orbit Reddit's Meshnet (also known as the Darknet Plan) aims to cut the government out of the equation in order to keep the Internet free and open. As with the Chaos Computer Club's, the Redditors' plan is both technically feasible and totally ambitious. It's only a matter of time, we think, before the two groups join forces and just take over everything.

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.