I’m here in New York, watching as makers file in to set up their booths, gadgets, and crafts, and I’m suddenly reminded of the first time I came to Maker Faire in 2010 with an idea that was doomed from the start.
I attended an information meeting about Maker Faire at NYU’s ITP graduate school. In that meeting, Arduino co-creator (and my future professor) Tom Igoe issued a challenge. The chrome Unisphere in Flushing Meadows Park (built for the 1964 World’s Fair) is right next to the New York Hall of Science, the site for Maker Faire New York. He mentioned the Unisphere and said “Hack that!” Not being one to shy away from a challenge, I took his suggestion as an imperative.
It turns out that Maker Faire is at roughly the scale orbital distance from the Unisphere as our moon is to Earth. I decided to enlist my future classmates and construct a 28 foot wide recycled cardboard Moonisphere. It was an unmitigated disaster, but somehow still educational and loads of fun.
I drove to New Jersey to buy ten gallons of quick-drying cardboard glue, and learned a lot about industrial glue guns while I was there. I toted this and the rest of my supplies to Maker Faire, then hopped back in my car to drive into Queens’ twilight searching for discarded cardboard. After pilfering from many curbs and supermarket parking lots, I had a veritable mountain of material to work with. What I wasn’t planning on was the lack of rigidity in the cardboard even when stacked in multiple layers.
The strength of the circular spars we made was akin to a wet noodle. We were really good at 2D, but needed a ladder and many hands to get beyond that. Even the above video failed, as my voice was somehow turned into a chipmunk’s squelch when it was encoded. For those who can’t make it out:
This is what the moon would be if the Unisphere, in the distance, by Citi Field were the size of the Earth. The orbital distance of this would be twice as far away, over at the other end of the property, than this. And if you were in an Apollo Lander on your way to the moon, you would be less than a head of a pin and traveling at one inch per second, which is the equivalent of twenty-five thousand miles an hour. This is the Moonisphere; this is what we’ve done. The key is in the process not the product. The journey’s in the destination – and we’ve arrived.
It’s been three years and today I’ve returned not only as a maker, but a member of the MAKE staff. All my friends and classmates who worked on the Moonisphere have gone on to do great things. Remarkably, Eric Hagan who is presenting at Maker Faire, is an adjunct professor at ITP, and we’ve become great friends.
Imagine my surprise when I walked over to the old Moonisphere spot today and saw a giant semispherical structure in its place. The scale wasn’t off by much either! It’s there for a company called Circus Warehouse, that trains young people to get off the ground and fly through the air within the confines of those curved girders.
I’d like to think that negotiating the construction of the doomed Moonisphere was an aerial attempt of our own (even though we landed flat on our faces.) In fact, less than a week hence, the late Red Burns, founder of ITP, would tell us in her “What I Hope for you” presentation, “That you are willing to risk, make mistakes, and learn from failure.” If you see any exhibits at Maker Faire, or projects that are featured on MAKE remember that virtually all these makers have face-planted many times before succeeding. There’s no shame in failure. In fact, it’s usually a prerequisite for success.
Moonisphere photos by Traci Lawson.