It’s been awhile since I’ve blogged about space exploration and now seems a good time to slip into my space cadet uniform and stare up at the stars for a moment. How many of you dream of a day when the average person can stroll across Mars, leave their footprints on the moon, or simply see the Earth spin majestically beneath them?
Big leaps of discovery always start with a big dream.
Those turned out to be popular words that I recently used on twitter talking about the vision behind a fledgling organization called Space Corps. I say “fledgling” because the idea behind Space Corps is not much more than a glowing ember – a dream of the biggest kind and not much more than a hobby for a few of us. Simply put, we want to see humankind spread out across the solar system and eventually the stars. Millions of people around the world share that same dream, so we’re no different in that aspect. We know that neither our children nor ourselves may ever see it become reality. However, we passionately believe we can have a meaningful impact on moving us toward that path starting now.
So how do we think we can do it and why is Space Corp’s approach different? If you’re ready to dream a bit, stick around and keep reading. If you’re stuck with your feet firmly on the ground, then this blog post is probably not for you.
Space exploration is hard … REALLY HARD! I’ve heard people try to liken it to the days when explorers set sail on ships to cross the Atlantic. The truth is that space exploration is orders of magnitude more difficult, more dangerous, and far more costly than anything humankind has ever done in the past. The distances involved nearly defy imagination and the environment could not be more inhospitable.
Neil deGrasse Tyson, a well known physicist and TV personality, recently said that private companies just don’t lead the way when the stakes are so high. The costs are enormous, the risks are high, and the returns on investment are dubious at best. In terms of a manned mission to Mars, he said this of private companies seeking investors:
“If I’m a venture capitalist, I would ask you a series of questions,” Tyson said. “I would say:
- Is it dangerous? Well, yes.
- Will people die? Probably.
- How much will it cost? I don’t know, but a lot.
- What’s my return on investment? Nothing.
That’s a quick conversation.”
Yes, I know that Tyson isn’t all knowing and being on TV doesn’t make him an expert on everything, but he’s absolutely correct when it comes to hooking investors. With rare exception, major investors want a reasonable chance of receiving a decent return on their money. If we don’t change the equation behind that conversation, it will be a long time before private space ventures move beyond Earth orbit in any meaningful way.
I’m not talking about private space ventures doing work on behalf of the government. I’m talking about private companies conducting missions beyond Earth orbit for for their own commercial gain.
So, how do we tackle the financial requirements and other serious challenges of space exploration? The first thing to grasp is that a commercial organization who’s sole focus is on putting machines and people in deep space are simply unlikely to succeed. Space exploration can certainly be the main focus but without a diversified strategy that lowers risk, delivers a solid return to investors, and excites the imagination of people beyond just us space cadets, we might as well chase rainbows. The second requirement is that we must move beyond national borders and take a global mindset – tap into the collective passion and enthusiasm of millions instead of just thousands of enthusiasts.
Space Corp’s has developed a high level six-pillar strategy that we believe can succeed:
1) Inspire fellow dreamers – The first and maybe the most important pillar is a program of continuously reaching and attracting fellow dreamers who share in the same vision. There are millions of people in the world who are captivated by the idea of space exploration and the possibilities it represents. These and other fellow dreamers represent an enormous untapped potential.
2) Build a passionate volunteer corps – You’d have to have been asleep at your keyboard for the past several years to have not heard terms like crowdsourcing or crowdfunding. They key word is “crowd” and we believe that rather than simply seeking money, we can tap into the talents and skills of thousands of volunteers around the world — people that are willing to donate small amounts of their time, talent, and knowledge towards a common vision.
3) Create sustainable sources of capital – This is a biggie and gets to the heart of the financial obstacles associated with space exploration. Sustainable and reliable capital requires a diversified portfolio of investments, lines of business, and a broad customer base. This is where most NewSpace companies differ from Space Corps – they have narrowly defined lines of business, fewer sources of revenue, and an even smaller customer base.
Space Corps’ approach is to establish lines of business across multiple industries, including areas such as entertainment, apparel, education, conferences, as well as commercial space related products & services. For example, in the entertainment space, Space Corps may launch a series of mobile games that appeal to not only space exploration enthusiasts but also the broader gaming community. They key is to appeal to wide variety consumers, diversify sources of revenue, while funneling a percentage of the profits towards our primary vision.
4) Develop a strategy for today that keeps tomorrow’s dream clearly in focus – A successful strategy needs to realistic goals for today without loosing site of the longer term vision. Leveraging existing works, such as the Integrated Space Plan as a guide, we need to identify the critical paths; define near-term goals and objectives; outline gaps in resources, capabilities, technology, and science; and work to build a collaborative living roadmap.
5) Lead by doing – Leverage existing technology and partners where practical; initiate and fund research and development efforts where needed; continuously develop, exercise, and improve operational capabilities; start small build, launch, and conduct missions in space that further the goals and objectives.
6) Passion, imagination, and fun – This and the first pillar are perhaps the most important. Even the name, Space Corps, reflects our belief that passion, imagination, and fun need to be a key part of our organizational culture. We believe that play is essential to inspiring not only the youth of the world but adults as well.
Space Corps is a bold vision with a bold strategy. Right now, we’re just a spark of an idea looking for others to join our ranks and help turn it into something more. We’d love to hear your ideas and thoughts.
So, put on your flight suit and come dream with us for a bit!
If you valued this article and want more, please hit the ‘like’ button and also share via your Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ and Facebook social media platforms. I encourage you to join the conversation or ask questions so feel free to add a comment on this post.
You can also find me on twitter at @NewFrontierCIO for more commentary on the frontiers of technology, leadership, space exploration, and science.