In the time since SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket launched into space February 2018, the bright red Tesla Roadster has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty easily more than 17,000 times over, and its mannequin-driver Starman has listened to “Space Oddity” more than 127,100 times as the distinctive payload of Elon Musk’s high-profile project continues on its journey through our solar system.
Back on Earth over that same span of time, lifelong Ewing resident Joe Rego went from nurturing the spark of an idea that the launch inspired in him to getting his own pet project off the ground. After more than a year of planning, inquiring and fervently chasing a dream, his nascent aerospace company Launch-A-Wish was finally ready for takeoff.
Launch-A-Wish, which Rego says formally got its start this April, encourages private citizens all over the world to cast anything from a birthday wish, to a photograph, to a memorial tribute into the heavens.
“People have sent messages into space before, NASA has sent messages into space, but it’s never really been done by or open to the public like this,” he says.
It’s an idea that might have been teased into life as Rego watched that cherry-red convertible take off for the final frontier, but it began with a lifetime of devouring astronomy books, consulting sky maps, and a gaze that is constantly drifting skyward.
“I’ve always been interested in space,” Rego says. “As a kid, I had telescopes and books about outer space and the Hubble Space Telescope; now, I have an app on my phone called Sky Map. I’m always looking up at the stars. And when I watched that red Tesla go into space, it got my wheels spinning. I started thinking about what I could launch into space, too.”
It was that love of space combined with a desire to make the outer reaches feel a little more within reach for the majority of the population who will remain eternally earthbound that buoyed Rego through the long process of taking Launch-A-Wish from the nebulous ether of dreams to the extraterrestrial reaches beyond our pale blue dot.
It was a journey filled with false starts and closed doors that proved to be rather challenging—even for Rego, a retired Ewing Police officer and owner of a local construction company who describes himself as possessing the entrepreneurial spirit: “Once I set my sights on something, I’m going for it.”
“It was very difficult getting Launch-A-Wish started,” he says. “I would make phone calls and not know what terminology to use at first. And then I would get people who’d response with ‘You can’t just launch a memory capsule into space! Who are you!?’
“Then I started talking to companies that couldn’t help me directly but pushed me in the right direction—and once I knew how to sound professional by using the right terminology and getting in touch with the right people, doors began to open up. People started to realize that I was legitimate.”
Two months into his quest to establish Launch-A-Wish, Rego found himself contracted with a space service company that had things like the flight modules his start-up needed to literally get off the ground.
From there, the pieces keep falling into place, right on down to getting the Launch-A-Wish website (launchawish.com) up and running—a key component, as those who purchase a wish kit will utilize the site to input their unique user codes, interact with the program, and, ultimately, keep tabs on their space-bound wishes.
“What’s really cool is that all the missions are trackable through our website, so we will be able to let people know where in the solar system their wish is,” Rego says, explaining how the codes accompanying each kit allow customers to set up their profile and user dashboards directly through the Launch-A-Wish website to track their far-ranging digital wishes, memories, and photos.
Each kit includes a commemorative USB drive and coin specific to the mission, as well as a credit-card sized card with a scratch-off launch code, though the type of mission determines what kit the intended recipient receives. Launch-A-Wish currently offers three missions to those who want their wishes, memorials, messages of hope, and milestone observations to hop onboard a microchip enshrined within a memory capsule that’s destined for outer space via rocket or space vessel.
The Earth Orbital option does literally what its name suggests, as the capsule will be affixed to a commercial satellite or rocket body bound for low-earth orbit, where it will circle the planet for the duration of the host’s orbital life.
The first capsule will be integrated with SpaceX’s Falcon 9 and is expected to launch from California’s Vandenberg Air Force Base during the final quarter of 2019.
The Moon Lander mission’s capsule will accompany the Moon Express MX-1E Robotic Explorer on its early-2020 moon landing—the first NASA-approved private commercial moon lander, according to the Launch-A-Wish website, and “the first U.S. moon-lander since 1972,” according to Rego.
It will remain on the lunar surface for as for long as our only natural satellite exists. The third option is the Deep Space mission, where a wish capsule and the commercial satellite it’s aboard will be launched from Cape Canaveral’s historic Kennedy Space Center into whatever lies well beyond the Earth and the moon.
Rego says that the launch dates are different for each mission because Launch-A-Wish piggy-backs onto planned launches and each destination departs for space at different times. Because the microchip is integrated into each launched vessel, each mission creates zero space debris.
But Rego isn’t just keeping his eyes on the skies: Just a month into Launch-A-Wish’s own official launch, he was able to leverage his longtime local ties to partner up with the Sunshine Foundation’s Mercer County chapter and do some good for the community.
The Sunshine Foundation’s mission statement “is to answer the dreams of chronically ill, seriously ill, physically challenged and abused children ages three to eighteen, whose families cannot fulfill their requests due to financial strain,” making it the fitting partner for a tech-startup built on reaching for lofty goals and letting wishes take flight.
Rego, who has volunteered with the non-profit in the past, reached out to Sunshine’s Mercer chapter president Cathy DiCostanzo.
The two worked to incorporate Launch-A-Wish into the organization’s annual Dream Lift to Disney World on May 7, where the foundation’s young benefactors were whisked away to Walt Disney World (or another popular Orlando theme park, as dictated by children’s requests) for a day of living out their dream vacations.
“It made me feel great that the kids were going to be able to use our product to send their wishes and prayers and whatever else they wanted into space,” Rego says.
While the first batch of wishes is waiting for the countdown to its corresponding launch day, Rego is heartened by the response he’s already seen from children’s casting their wishes into space, newlyweds commemorating their special days with digital photo albums, and grieving family members launching a lunar-bound memorial “and knowing that, every time they look up at the moon, their loved one is there.”
“We see people from all walks of life wanting to participate,” he adds. “It was initially designed for kids but it’s generic enough for everybody.”
Rego says that “the future of Launch-A-Wish is definitely looking up” (no pun intended, he swears), and that while the company is still starting out, he already would love to add a Mars mission to its locational roster. For now, though, he’s content knowing that helping people make a big deal out of their biggest wishes might help them carry that hope with them—and help nurture it into fruition.
“When you make a wish, you have a tendency to just forget about that wish—but if you launch that wish into space and keep track of it, maybe, just maybe, that wish that you launched is something you will be able to manifest into reality,” Rego says.