The List

For several years, I’ve had a sort of fanciful list going. The theory being that when some group I’m part of succeeds in fielding the first commercial orbital RLV, or the first commercial manned lunar lander, there’s a list of people that (if I have any say in the matter) have earned themselves a free flight. I’ve never written this list down, and some of the people on this list have never heard of me, and no, I don’t have any formal agreement from Dave, but it’s still something that I would do if I ever end up in the situation to offer them that. I heard today from Rand Simberg that Len Cormier, one of the people who’s been on my list ever since I dreamed it up, is in hospice now fighting a losing battle with cancer.

I’m not going to eulogize my friend yet, as he’s still fighting the fight. You don’t eulogize the living.

But I do have to admit that it really struck home how long and hard of a road the commercial conquest of space has been, is, and will continue to be. Back in ’98, when I was 18 and first starting to seriously try to get involved with this whole commercial space thing (ironically enough, as part of Len’s X-Van 2001 project), I really thought that things were on the cusp of taking off. I was somewhat worried that by the time I got back from my 2 year mission, I would have missed out on all of the excitement. If you had told me back then, that ten years later the industry would still be struggling to get the first commercially operable manned suborbital vehicle into service, I would have laughed at your naivety…

But here we are. While I’m more confident than ever that there is a road from where we are to where we in this industry want to go, I’m no longer so confident about the timeline. The reality is that while Space Ship One did kill the giggle factor about commercial space, that hasn’t equated to the funding spigots being turned on. Even extremely solid companies like XCOR are still struggling financially to some extent or another.

We’ll get there, I just hope it happens soon enough that those on my list can still take me up on my offer.

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Jonathan Goff

Jonathan Goff

President/CEO at Altius Space Machines
Jonathan Goff is a space technologist, inventor, and serial space entrepreneur who created the Selenian Boondocks blog. Jon was a co-founder of Masten Space Systems, and is the founder and CEO of Altius Space Machines, a space robotics startup in Broomfield, CO. His family includes his wife, Tiffany, and five boys: Jarom (deceased), Jonathan, James, Peter, and Andrew. Jon has a BS in Manufacturing Engineering (1999) and an MS in Mechanical Engineering (2007) from Brigham Young University, and served an LDS proselytizing mission in Olongapo, Philippines from 2000-2002.
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2 Responses to The List

  1. Monte Davis says:

    Back in ’98, when I was 18 and first starting to seriously try to get involved with this whole commercial space thing (ironically enough, as part of Len’s X-Van 2001 project), I really thought that things were on the cusp of taking off.

    I could substitute ’68, when I was 18 and few questioned the trajectory implied by the Pan Am orbital shuttle in 2001. (Pan Am was a commercial airline of the day, young’uns.) Of course private enterprise would pick up the technology and run with it, and of course it would get better and cheaper and more versatile as aviation had, and of course new markets would burgeon as it did.

    As far as I can see, most space fans still take that alternate history as their default — i.e., it should and would have happened if NASA (or Congress) (or cheapskate Nixon, or technology-hating liberals) (or a feckless public) hadn’t derailed it.

    Me, I think those are comforting fables: that the space technologies of 1968 really did have — and have today — a lot less headroom for order-of-magnitude improvements than those of aviation in 1910. Ditto for the economics of space access vs. those of nascent aviation markets. But I am encouraged that some, like you, are willing to look squarely at how hard it is and stick with it anyway.

  2. Jim Muncy says:

    Monte,

    It was indeed naive for us to think that Apollo’s technologies would lead to Pan Am Clippers to space… just as it was naive to imagine that Apollo was about opening a door to the space frontier, as opposed to punching a tiny hole in the wall before the Soviets did.

    That said, the instinctive American view of space as a place we should be able to go is not wrong… it was simply wrong to think that we could get there on bureaucratic autopilot.

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