Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson's new spacecraft set for first test flight

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Jan 26, 2015, 3:29 PM EST

Some of the greatest and geekiest minds alive are teaming up for a new space project. Want to see what Bill Nye and Neil deGrasse Tyson are cooking up?

Nye and Tyson, along with the Planetary Society, have announced the first test mission of the LightSail spacecraft. The ship is set to embark on a May 2015 test flight. The project is funded entirely by private citizens, and the solar sail satellite will be included on an upcoming Atlas V rocket launch.

The eventual goal is to launch the Lightsail solar sail satellite, which will use the power of the sun for propulsion. The technology has a ton of potential applications, the least of which is to potentially power a future generation of spacecraft. The initial test will put the critical functions through their paces, while an eventual second launch in 2016 will actually test the solar sail tech.

Nye serves as the CEO of the Planetary Society and seems to think the concept could be an amazing experiment: 

“There's an old saying in aerospace, 'One test is worth a thousand expert opinions.’ After six years of development, we're ready at last to see how LightSail flies. LightSail is technically wonderful, but it's also wonderfully romantic. We'll sail on sunbeams. But wait, there’s more: this unique, remarkable spacecraft is funded entirely by private citizens, people who think spaceflight is cool.”

The LightSail is packaged into a small spacecraft called a CubeSat, a low-cost piece of space mission tech that could help universities and research groups explore and experiment in space. The only problem? Propulsion. That’s where LightSail comes in. The team hopes the LightSail experiment can prove that the solar sail tech is a viable option to power these future experiments and tiny satellites.

To no one’s surprise, Tyson — a member of the Planetary Society’s board of directors — had some poetic things to say about the concept:

“With the expected launch of LightSail -- a craft propelled among the stars on the pressure of light itself -- the expanse of space becomes a literal analogue to the open seas.  If space is tomorrow's ocean, then Earth’s surface is its shoreline.”

We’re anxious to see how the first test goes, but more than anything, the 2016 mission is the big one. This will definitely be a project to keep an eye on heading into next year.