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Technobabble: Webcast Embarks on Space Odyssey

July 16, 2008

NASA has Houston. Benjamin Higginbotham has Eden Prairie.

What, you’ve never heard of it?

The southwest suburb of Minneapolis serves as ground control for his SpaceVidcast, a daily Internet show about space travel.

An admitted tech-obsessed geek, Higginbotham, 30, gets excited when he boasts about the motorized satellite dish on his roof that he can control from anywhere in the world or the equipment upgrade that will allow him to go completely high-def. But he becomes downright giddy when talking about sending people back to the moon, on to Mars and beyond.

“When it comes down to it, what we’re really trying to push for is human exploration of other planets and other bodies, not just the moon,” he said.

And if he’s talking about space travel, it’s often to a live audience on the Web via SpaceVidcast (www.spacevidcast.com). Even an interview with a newspaper writer is broadcast for all to see from the newly redesigned SpaceVidcast set _ Higginbotham’s basement.

But he’s not just talking, he says; he’s trying to start a conversation. As viewers watch _ peaking at 40,000 during the recent Mars landing _ they can chat onscreen in real time with Higginbotham and his wife, Cariann, 31, who co-hosts SpaceVidcast.

“We can’t all gather in Florida for a launch _ or wherever that launch may be _ but we can gather online,” he said.

Such “social media,” as participatory Web sites are called, is one of the things that sets SpaceVidcast apart from other sites that offer NASA video feeds and other space-themed fare. Another is Higginbotham’s goal to make the topic easily understandable.

He firmly believes that humans’ time on Earth will eventually run out, so we must look to the stars for our future, whether it’s through government agencies such as NASA or privatized efforts.

“Social media will change the world,” he said in explaining SpaceVidcast’s mission. “Space travel will save it.”

“That’s so cheesy!” Cariann said, bursting out laughing.

“I know,” he replied with a grin. “I’m on my soapbox.”

The couple clearly have a good time with their heads among the stars, whether it’s a live webcast or a prerecorded segment. One recent news clip showed nothing but the recent landing of the space shuttle to the tune of “Spaceman,” by Darcy Fray, but the dramatic editing and song choice reflected Higginbotham’s joy in the awe-inspiring event, which he said needed no words.

“This is fun stuff,” he said. “When you do something you’re passionate about, it’s not work.”

But it does cost money. Higginbotham, whose day job is director of new technology for the Twin Cities-based real-estate Web site Where to Live, has paid for all of the equipment and other SpaceVidcast expenses out of his own pocket. His wife of seven years has fully supported the project.

“We got these chairs for our anniversary,” she said, pointing out some of the set’s new additions. “Oh, and those mike stands.”

SpaceVidcast is worth it, Higginbotham added.

“It’s something I believe in. It’s something I’m passionate about,” he said. “And if that means I have to spend my own money to make it go, then I spend my own money to make it go.”

Eventually, he would like to line up corporate sponsors, not to make money, but to reinvest in the show. His goals include moving to a real studio, adding a production crew and bringing in a live audience to complement the discussion from viewers online. He also wants to add an educational section to the Web site to cater to the schoolchildren who have tuned in from as far away as Mexico and France.

Such changes will help him spread his message that humans should resume space travel, which has been stagnating since the Apollo missions to the Moon stopped in the early 1970s.

“We’ve been stuck in lower-Earth orbit for 30 years _ and that’s very sad,” he said. “It’s time to move on.”

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(c) 2008, Star Tribune (Minneapolis)

Visit the Star Tribune Web edition on the World Wide Web at http://www.startribune.com

Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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