The jury is still out on whether crowdfunding campaigns such as the one Planetary Resources launched on Kickstarter in May to raise more than $1.5 million for a small space telescope will prove as transformative as their backers hope. But it’s already clear that, at least for small projects, crowdfunding has the potential to harness thousands of small donations from space enthusiasts of all stripes to raise meaningful capital. 

Perhaps more important than the money Planetary Resources raised from its successful 33-day campaign is the publicity it garnered.

The generation of engineers now heading into retirement often credit the Apollo program for inspiring their career paths, so much so that it is something of a cliche. It’s hard to imagine NASA’s congressionally mandated Space Launch System, which currently has no clear mission, having the same effect on today’s young minds. But crowdfunded pie-in-the-sky space ventures, coupled with the real world success of futurists like Elon Musk — who’s not shy about floating big, exciting ideas — just might.