Blog - Learning to tell a better story about spaceflight
When I tell people I am in the commercial space business, I now use a hand gesture. I point up. Otherwise they think I sell in commercial space in warehouses, or in shopping malls. I have been traveling a great deal in these past three weeks. The more I work to build our industry, the more I realize I am a poor communicator. I need better tools and more collaborators who are clear about the future of this industry and our country. The space industry is not well understood. I need you to help us tell our story.
NASA has some of the most extraordinary people working with them. It is a magnet for great scientific minds, exemplary program managers, and even economists have an important role to play in the agency. I met a young economist who works with NASA at Ames Research Center. In less than one minute he explained his position. For the next ten years at least, the government will be a prime investor in the commercial space industry. NASA will continue to have a presence of importance. His research has led him to believe, given the long term prognosis for investment in space infrastructure, launch vehicles and workforce development; the government will be involved as a prime in the development of the space transportation industry. He made a clear concise case. I asked him to give a three minute talk at the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) in October.
In 2005, New Mexico held the first XPRIZE Cup here in Las Cruces. We competed for and won this challenge, sponsored by the XPRIZE Foundation. New Mexicans convinced the XPRIZE Foundation the story of leadership in space convinced them we can do it again. Not one shovel had yet been turned at Spaceport America. It was also the first year I held ISPCS. Over 200 people attended, we held it at Corbett Center on the NMSU Campus. I knew the first year we were going to need a bigger building.
As the conference grew, a dialog emerged that had been hidden for many years. It was heresy but some in the space industry felt the Shuttle was too expensive to maintain, the promise of low cost access to space was not realized, and maybe the role of government in space should end. In 2005, the young entrepreneurs at my conference were considered too inexperienced by the elders. Yet, they persisted.
They improved, they gained the confidence of their peer reviewers. They made their case for investment, not just with words, but with successful launches and improved technologies. The government began to invest as partners in these new companies. Now, our country is relying on them to safely and reliably bring humans and cargo to space, including the International Space Station. Building a transportation industry is a big undertaking, and it is growing here in New Mexico.
New Mexico Space Grant, in partnership with many schools was launching rockets in the early 1990s. We began launching high powered model rockets at White Sands Missile Range in 1995. Model rockets were the start, then with the support of Admiral Paul Arthur at WSMR, we began building and safely launching high powered model rockets. Keep in mind, our community has been launching rockets to space since 1946. We are not amateurs in the space business in New Mexico.
Many employees dedicated their off Fridays to support us. It was a labor of love for sure. The point of that program was to teach teachers and student – yes you can build rockets and experiments. We can launch them in three days, download data and present it all within a one week Summer Institute. The success stories were many. We and they learned together and went well beyond what we all thought was possible. We never were alone. Our colleagues at White Sands Missile Range and NASA White Sands Test Facility were always by our side. They know this business.
Now, instead of launching experiments maybe five miles we launch them 73 miles. The difference between what we did with amateur rockets and the rocket we use now is night and day. We are doing extraordinary things here in New Mexico. I met the founder of AutoDesk. He told me about their software that will help me explain in 3D how we design experiments and fit them into the rocket. Download it at usa.autodesk.com. I hope it will help me become a better communicator and tell our story.