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Trading Spaceships: One Man’s Journey Into Outer Space

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Slade Sohmer

By Slade Sohmer on March 25, 2011

Anthony Adams has fantasized about shooting into outer space for as long as he can remember. But it wasn’t until recently that he got a strong sense it was possible, and in actuality, probable.

All he had to do was start with something small and simply trade his way into orbit.

So the 30-year-old NYC-based activist, artist and entrepreneur originally from Erie, Pennsylvania, started a website called One Toy Spaceship in order to help him find a way to blast off into space.

Standing on the shoulders of Kyle MacDonald’s successful One Red Paperclip bartering story, Adams started on January 1, 2011 with “this killer toy plastic spaceship” and has already made five trades.

Adams is an interesting fellow, so this isn’t out of character for him. He’s an inventor who holds a U.S. Patent for CreditCovers.com, skins for credit cards. He’s a writer who founded DetentionSlip.org, America’s underground school newspaper (named a Top 25 blog in the world by TIME Magazine). And he’s a visionary who consults with select brands about how to build engaging social movements. Now he wants to be a spaceman.

We talked with Adams about his effort, how close he is to blasting off, and most importantly, his plan to give 15,000 school districts outer space exploration kits to send HD cameras into space.

You started the website One Toy Spaceship with the hopes of trading your way from something small and presumably plastic to an actual ride in space. How did you come up with your plan, and when did you make your first trade?

I was initially inspired by the story of Kyle MacDonald from One Red Paperclip around 2005. In the summer of 2006 or 2007, I was on a road trip to Canada, where I actually bought the toy spaceship. I created the basic website, and it sat dormant for YEARS.

I read an article about shipping products before they were 100 percent complete, and how that mindset needed to be a central part of any start-up. I wanted to make an effort to bake that into my life as much as possible, so on January 1st, 2011, I crossed One Toy Spaceship off the whiteboard and threw it online.

How much did you borrow from Kyle’s “One Red Paperclip” trading stories? And what did you learn from his efforts?

Kyle was a huge inspiration for this project. I tried to extract the guts of what I thought really worked for him with his project. If you poke around, you will see a lot of similarities. Even the name, One Toy Spaceship is a nod to One Red Paperclip.

Who did you make your first trade with, what was it, and how did that person contact you with no press yet?

What’s crazy is that my first trade was actually with Kyle from One Red Paperclip! I had reached out to him via email this past summer, and then we spoke on the phone. He pried the “space bar” off the actual keyboard he used while wrangling up trades for One Red Paperclip, and that was my first trade.

Where are you now in the process? How close are you to the goal — how many trades away from an actual ride in space do you think you are? And why do you think people are so willing to get involved in these trades?

So it’s less than three months in and I just announced my fifth trade. I traded Matt Barrie, the CEO of Freelancer.com an “Out of This World Experience” (a VIP Ticket to AwesomenessFest in Hawaii) for a Zero G Flight. If you visit the site you can see the trade progression and how I pulled off each trade.

I don’t want to speak to soon, but I think we are getting very close. As in, two or three more trades and I think I should be able to lock it in. The basic strategy behind the idea is to find things that are intangible and awesome alternated with things of real value. Additionally, as each trade progresses, there is tremendous PR value for brands or individuals to get on board with it. Folks have estimate that if and when I do the final trade to space, the PR value will be something like $10 million in earned media.

This is a story people want to be a part of — and this is all being done in the name of science education and awareness.

Let’s talk about that last part. You’re also doing a project where you’re giving 15,000 school districts outer space exploration kits that will allow students to build a module to send HD cameras into near space and shoot video. Tell me a little about that.

This past year on my education blog DetentionSlip.org, I wrote about The Brooklyn Space Program, a father/son team who sent an HD video camera up into near space (100,000 ft.) and shot some amazing video. The rig cost them less than $200 to build. I was so excited about this that I wanted every middle school and high student in the country to have the opportunity to build a kit.

So, I’ve teamed up with my father, Dr. Kenneth Adams, a former high school biology teacher who recently retired as Dean of the School of Education at Edinboro University of PA to create a really robust curriculum based around these kits. We will be sending out a kit to every school district in the country that includes a DVD with mission video, DIY plans, integrated curriculum, lesson plans, parts lists, etc. And for 100 lucky schools, we will be sending out full modules (HD Camera, Parachute, Weather Balloon, GPS Tracking System, Housing, etc) — completely free!

This is what my dad calls Event Based Learning, lessons designed to get the students excited about a project, and then harness that excitement to motivate them to learn new skills and subjects. We’re also developing this to utilize the Khan Academy online videos, so every component of the project will be mapped to a video explaining the underlying math or science.

We’ll pay for all this through some corporate partnerships — we’ve already been approached by a few companies who are eager to support this and have their brand present while these students go on an amazing adventure.

You can reach Anthony to trade at anthony@onetoyspaceship.com or call/text him at 608-446-4879. He now lives in New York City, but you can trade from anywhere in the galaxy.

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