For those of you who read my blog but somehow hadn’t heard the news already, three of XCOR Aerospace’s four founders left the suborbital rocket startup this past week. I got a notification last week on LinkedIn about Dan DeLong leaving, but found out today via Twitter and a press release from XCOR that Jeff Greason and Aleta Jackson had both left as well. For some reason this news feels like a little bit of a gut punch, so I feel like sharing some of my rambling, semi-coherent thoughts on the subject.
I’ve been following XCOR since they first started in 1999. I was barely 19 at the time, and had been interacting with (arguing with) Doug Jones, Jeff Greason, and Dan DeLong on the sci.space.* usenet groups for about three years by that point. I remember John Hare sending me an email while I was in the town of Bolinao on my mission (shortly before 9/11) with pictures of the EZRocket’s first flights. I remember crashing on XCOR’s hangar floor the night before watching SpaceShipOne’s first flight (and being terrified by how much that building creaks in the Mojave winds). I remember being grateful for all the legwork XCOR (particularly Randall Clague) did in trying to help shape the reusable vehicle experimental permit and launch licensing process in a way that protected the uninvolved while enabling the industry to learn and grow. I remember XCOR encouraging Masten to move down to Mojave, and later helping us in our successful Lunar Lander Challenge attempts. I remember watching the flights they did of the X-Racer, and being impressed by how technically competent their team always felt. I remember Jeff Greason serving on the Augustine Committee, acting as the voice of reason, and a sort of “Elder Statesman1” representing the commercial space industry. I could probably go on.
It just feels weird thinking of the idea of an XCOR without Jeff, Dan, and Aleta there.
While we don’t know the cause of their departures from XCOR, I’m not sure whether them being booted, or things getting bad enough that they would rather leave than stay another few years is worse. I know one of my fears as a founder has been the idea of eventually losing control and being kicked out of my own startup. That would be almost as awful as having my family disown me. I hope that’s not the situation, and that it was more one of the three of them decide that they needed a change of pace and/or seeing new opportunities they needed to pursue. I also hope for the sake of my many friends still there at XCOR that the company will manage to soldier on and make it to flight with Lynx. I also hope that Jeff, and Dan, and Aleta will soon find new projects that can use their skills, and that they can yet see all the hard work they put into XCOR pay off for them and for the industry.
I’m not sure if I’ve really added anything, but this news just has me in a bit of a funk. Good luck, my friends!