April 2, 2013 at 4:40 PM ET
Sorry, "Star Wars" fans: A real-life Death Star and the X-wing fighters to bring it down won't be built anytime soon. First the White House snubbed a petition calling on the government to build the Death Star. Now two Kickstarter projects aimed at building a fully operational battle station as well as an X-wing fleet have fallen far short of their multimillion-dollar funding goals.
That means nobody is out any money, which probably comes as a huge relief to those who pledged their backing to the joke projects.
Both the Galactic Empire and the Rebel Alliance have something to brag about: The Death Star project, associated with Nick Petkovich's Gnut.co.uk in Britain, won pledges from 2,388 backers amounting to £328,613, or just under a half-million dollars. The X-wing fund-raiser, created by Simon Kwan in Shanghai, had fewer backers but raised more money — $721,036, to be exact.
"While we didn't meet meet our funding goal, we soundly beat the amount raised by the Empire for their Death Star!" Kwan wrote. "Take THAT, Dark Side ;-P"
The final tallies when the campaigns concluded on April Fools' Day would send most Kickstarter project creators over the moon, but the way Kickstarter's fund-raising system works, the creators can't cash in on those pledges unless the project goal is met. The goals were set high on purpose — about $30 million for the Death Star, and $11 million for the X-wing fighter fleet — so that backers could get in on the joke while staying off the hook for the money.
Even if they raised $30 million, that sum wouldn't even be enough to buy just the protective covers for a real-life Death Star's thermal exhaust ports, or a single sub-light propulsion thrust engine for an X-wing fighter. In the real world, the cost of building the comparatively puny, 450-ton International Space Station has been estimated at upwards of $100 billion. The estimated development cost for NASA's next-generation launch system is in the neighborhood of $35 billion. And for that price, you don't even get laser cannons.
A while back, college students calculated that it'd cost $852 quadrillion just to buy the steel for an armed and fully operational Death Star. Transterrestrial Musings' Rand Simberg says that estimate is grossly inflated — but in any case, Darth Vader would find the lack of Kickstarter funds disturbing.
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Alan Boyle is NBCNews.com's science editor. Connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. To keep up with Cosmic Log as well as NBCNews.com's other stories about science and space, sign up for the Tech & Science newsletter, delivered to your email in-box every weekday. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.