Thank you all for coming.
This the 13th, or 14th, annual Isaac Asimov panel debate.
I’ve lost count. I’ve been happy to host every single one
of them. This evening we are live-streamed on the internet
because we couldn’t fit everyone who wanted to attend in this room.
We also, of course, have our normal overflow space next-door.
I want to welcome everyone who is not in this room to this Asimov debate, which is on the
subject of selling space. I’m Neil deGrasse Tyson, your host this
evening. I’m the Frederick P. Rose Director of the
Hayden Planetarium, where I’m also an astrophysicist with the Department of Astrophysics there.
If I can take a quick show of hands. How many of you out there in this room, is
this the first time you’ve attended one of these debates?
It’s like half of you. We’ve been doing this every year, right?
Where have you? Were you dragged here this time?
I don’t know what—I’m curious about that.
Just wondering. I want to thank the Asimov family, especially
Janet Asimov. Isaac Asimov was a friend of this institution.
He didn’t fly much and so, most of his work that he did for his many books, 600-plus books,
were conducted here at this institution in our libraries and so, we and Isaac Asimov
had a special relationship because of this and this panel debate is in his honor.
I just want to—join me in thanking Janet Asimov, who helped to spearhead this event.
Janet Asimov. Of course, events like this run smoothly not
because I had anything to do with them running. We have Suzanne Morris, who’s our Head of
Events here, Director of Public Programs, and she’s having a baby in 14 days and she’s
here. If there’s a doctor in the house, you’ll
know why we ask for you. Dominic Davis, my assistant, Elizabeth Stachow,
Laura Venner and various departments in the museum who make this event happen; security,
the movers, the development department events, audio-visual.
Thank you all and especially the volunteers who make all of this work.
Thank you for all of them. A quick announcement.
At 2:06 this morning, one of the brightest stars in the night sky, Regulus, will be occulted
by a 45-mile diameter asteroid and it’s called Erigon.
That’s the name of the asteroid, Erigon and so, I think it might not be clear in the
New York metropolitan area this evening, but along the occulting path, which goes from
Canada, from the Atlantic Ocean up across New York City, up through western New York
into Canada. These are fun to watch because the star completely
disappears, in this case, for 14 seconds. It’s the kind of thing like astronomers
get really excited about and others look at you kind of funny for having done so, but
we like celebrating these events and there’s something we do called Astronomy on Tap, where
we send some of our astronomers to regional bars and you could just hang out, drink and
talk about the universe, four bars. There’s a bar called the Ding-Dong Lounge,
where we’ll have two—we’ll dispatch two astronomers there.
That’s uptown. There’s another one called the Ark Bar,
down in the West Village. We have two astronomers there.
The Way Station in Brooklyn, what else do we have here?
Pacific Standard, that’s in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and so with four bars, there’ll
be two astronomers in each bar. Even if we’re clouded out, you can still
drink in the universe with them and while you’re doing it, if you’re ordering a
drink, make sure to order a Cosmos. Tonight, we’re selling space.
Finding out how that works, a hugely distinguished panel.
I will bring them out right now. First, John Logsdon, come on out.
John Logsdon, Professor Emeritus, Space Policy, George Washington University.
The Honorable Robert Walker, former member of Congress, author of the legislation that
changed how NASA interacts with the private sector.
We have Mike Gold. He’s from Bigelow Aerospace, one of the
start-up aerospace companies, Mike Gold. Tom Shelley, President of Space Adventures.
He wants your butt in a seat in space
and the rest of you. Elliot Pulham.
He’s CEO of the Space Foundation. Elliot, welcome.
Actually a person who was my first invite to this panel, but she was pre-scheduled to
give a talk in Los Angeles, but because there’s a three-hour time difference we got nab a
half hour of her at the beginning of this panel, Wanda Austin, President and CEO of
the Aerospace Corporation. There you go, Wanda.
We all see Wanda. Thanks for joining us here and we have you
for like the next three hours, you said? Absolutely, Neil.
So, I have each one of my panelists just prepared a two-minute, sort of opening remark, just
so you know the sound of their voice. Now?
John, now, I’m the elder here. I’ve been at this a long time.
The first launch I saw was Apollo 11. It’s been downhill since then.
I’ve written a lot of the history of the government-based programs and am fascinated
by this paradigm shift that we’re going through of the increasing engagement of the
private sector in space activity. Where it will take us, I think is what we’re
going to talk about tonight. It’s not clear to me where that is going
and what the continuing, and I think important role of the government will continue to be.
Thanks, John. Bob Walker, Congress.
Like John, I’ve been around for a long time in this business now.
I remember when selling space was real estate people selling coops in New York, but it was
clear to me when I was a junior member of the Science, Space and Technology committee
that the space enterprise needed to reach out beyond simply NASA.
At that time, we’d grown up a space program that was in the national interest, but it
had largely been grown up along the lines of the defense programs.
It needed to be more open. So, I began to draft legislation.
The first legislation I drafted made it possible for NASA to deal with commercial companies.
The problem with that was NASA didn’t like it.
It was changing their organic act. They weren’t very much in favor of that
at that point. It took a couple of years, but we passed that.
Later on, we actually passed commercial space acts aimed at allowing entrepreneurs to come
into the business. That’s where some of this momentum has now
come, is that entrepreneurs can now begin to think in terms different than simply the
government missions and can begin to think about things that they would like to see done
with the idea that in the end, investors will be interested and they can actually make money
out of it. That’s where we’re headed at the present
time and I think it’s a brand-new way of expanding the space enterprise in the United
States. Excellent, thank you.
Mike Gold, Bigelow Aerospace. What do you got?
I haven’t been around as long as these two other distinguished panelists, but I’ve
been coming to this museum for a very long time.
As a child growing up on an Indian reservation in Montana, coming to this museum was the
highlight of my year and before you say, “Mike doesn’t look Native American,” when we
were going to leave the reservation, I remember telling my mother, “We can’t leave. We’re
here,” and she said, “You’re Jewish. Not Indian.”
I haven’t recovered emotionally ever since. That made me crazy enough to get into the
space industry and I’m with Bigelow Aerospace, which is a commercial company that is developing
expandable space habitats, which give you much more volume than traditional structures,
enhance protection from radiation and physical debris and will protect you against the greatest
threat for space projects, budget cuts. We can implement these systems for 10 percent
of the cost. We’ve launched two spacecraft already, both
on converted Russian nuclear missiles from an active Russian nuclear missile base.
We have a third spacecraft headed to the international space station next summer where it will be
attached and it’ll be the first time that an astronaut will step inside an expandable
habitat. I’d like to point out, coming from Montana,
that it wasn’t the Lewis and Clark expedition that settled my state or the American West.
The government sponsored that exploration, but it was the homesteaders, the farmers,
the trappers, the businessmen who came and then, made it what it was and I want to see
that happen in the space world. Tom?
Good evening, everybody. My name is Tom Shelley.
I run a company called Space Adventures. We are a space tour operator and you may wonder
what that means and I’ll tell you. We arrange for private individuals to actually
fly up into space and experience it for themselves. We do that.
We’ve done it now eight times using the Russian Soyuz rocket.
We’ve arranged for private individuals to go as fare-paying passengers on-board on those
flights. We also have a company called Zero-G Corporation,
which provides a weightless experience through a parabolic flight.
We do those flights all across the U.S. We’re developing a sub-orbital space flight
program for people to be able to go into space for about five minutes and come back down
again. My personal favorite program that we hope
is going to be done by about 2017-2018, is to take two private citizens, again on the
Russian Soyuz, but this time around the far side of the moon.
We have a couple of clients under contract and we hope to take that forward.
So, we really are in the business of selling space in terms of space experiences for regular
people. Tom, I think people really want to go to the
dark side of the moon. You got one of those trips?
Elliot? Thanks, Neil.
I’m Elliot Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation. I have the greatest job in the world.
We are a diversified international, non-profit organization and we work with just about everybody
in the space industry, from the new start-up entrepreneurs right to the old military-industrial
complex, the academics. We even do programs for pre-schoolers and
students and teachers around the country, so we kind of touch it all.
That gives us a great perspective of what’s going on.
When Neil invited me to the panel and he gave me the title, “Selling Space,” I thought
that’s a really interesting way to come at it because if you think of space as a product,
it’s not an awful lot different from a lot of other products in that if your product
is good enough, it almost sells itself. So, we can talk about that as we go through.
Except most products that you might buy, if they break, you don’t end up dead at the
end of it. Just an FYI on that.
Yeah. Talk to Tom on that one.
Wanda, tell everybody what the Aerospace Corporation does because that’s a really cool name,
but it’s not obvious what’s going on there, so tell us.
Good evening, Neil. Glad to be able to join you tonight and delighted
to have the opportunity to share what we do at Aerospace.
We are an FFRDC, which is a Federally-Funded Research and Development Center.
Our job is to help our customers understand the risks in space.
We’re very excited about the initiatives that are currently on-going and the excitement
that’s building about the opportunity to commercially go to space and maybe settle
space or homestead in space. We want to keep that momentum going and consider
the entire range of things that need to be addressed in the technical domain and in the
regulatory domain and we’d love to see those things happen rapidly because we want to get
there as soon as we can. So, while we share the excitement, we have
also been called on in a couple of broad area reviews and Neil, I know you have helped with
this, as well. This causes us to bring a rather sober view
to the challenges involved in really achieving all that we can be in space.
As a community, we think about how we assess the risk and to evaluate whether we understand
and have done everything we can to mitigate risk so that people understand that while
it will definitely be a E-ticket ride, for those of us who understand Disneyland jargon,
it is also something that you want to be able to come back and share with your grandchildren.
There’s some things that I would offer up that we want to think about.
There are some lessons that we’ve learned from entities like NASA on what are some of
the processes that we need to have in place. What have we learned about regulating so that
everyone understands sort of the minimum constraints that they need to meet?
We have other lessons where we’ve commercialized areas that the government has been, like commercial
airlines, so there’s a good business model there, but we also have to look at the safety
of the public and consider what we need to do to ensure that not only the people on the
ground, but the people on ISS, on the space station, all of those risks have to be considered.
So, we’re looking forward to engaging on that discussion and discovering what the options
are and the opportunities are. We look forward to working with many of the
organizations that are represented here on the panel, but we also want to make sure that
we have a good way to communicate with people who will volunteer to take that ride and ensure
that they understand how wonderful it’s going to be and as much as you do with other
exciting rides, understand where the risks are.
Thanks. Okay, thank you, Wanda.
So, the way we run this panel. It’s called a panel debate, but it’s not
your typical debate. What we do is we’re going to have a conversation
up here and we’ll interrupt each other. I’ll butt in.
They’ll butt back in and out and it’s as though you’re eavesdropping on a conversation
we are having at a bar. So, you’re just going to watch us have a
conversation. I’m here to stir the pot a bit because I
know that when this set of five get together, it’s a love fest and I’m just trying to
make sure that there’s a reality check brought to it.
They’ve been notified of that in advance. Let me start off with Wanda.
I want to front-load you here because I know we don’t have you for the whole night.
If someone is prepared to risk their life to go into space, and they know this and they
sign on one of these, what do you call these—liability waivers—liability waiver that’s a euphemism
for death waiver, I presume, then why should anyone care what you say?
They’ve got their own engineers. They get their own data, so where do you come
in to that plan? We come into that plan to think about it up-front
and identify what are the things that we can do to mitigate those risks so that they feel
very, very comfortable signing that waiver. Yeah, but you cost money to them, right?
Presumably, you’re going to certify them to say they’re safe and they got their own
engineers, so what is his motivation to come to you?
Well, I think the motivation is because we’ve been in this business for 50 years, that maybe
we know a little bit more about the risks than the average person walking on the street
and that there’s a lot to be learned from having that insight; that you want to understand
what you can do and when you’re really getting just a one-way ticket.
So, I think, it’s really fitting to have that perspective well-understood and
there’s also other people involved, Neil. It’s great that you signed up for that risk,
but you also have a public safety concern. You have a collision avoidance concern that
you don’t inadvertently impact assets that are already there and we will have other.
Wait, wait, wait, that was collision-avoidance system to avoid assets.
That means not smashing into a satellite or something that’s already in orbit.
Exactly, not smashing into a satellite, another [inaudible].
We saw the movie, Gravity. We know bad stuff happens in space.
We got that, right, okay? That’s good.
What we need to think about, how do we make sure that this is a good outcome on all sides.
We will have other people in space. We already do today, so there are lots of
reasons why we all want to understand; that we fully understand how successful these missions
can be and get out and support them and encourage people to go forward.
Okay, so you’re a supporter, but with caution. That’s what I hear.
So, John, you’ve studied the space program from its birth, which is now 50, some 55 years
old. I know it’s 55 years old because that’s
how old I am. I was born the same week NASA was founded.
Just wanted to put that on the record here. John, back in the old days, were people concerned
much for safety or we just had to beat the Russians?
Well, there was a concern on safety. I mean, when Alan Shepard went up on the first
sub-orbital flight in Mercury, the person that gave the basic go was John F. Kennedy.
He was very concerned the week after the Bay of Pigs that we didn’t have another on-television,
live catastrophe. There was a very real concern about the safety
of the original astronauts and the odds given at that point would not be acceptable today.
They were kind of 90 percent survival of the crew, not 99.9 percent.
But they were the right stuff. Yeah, okay.
For real. They knew what they were risking.
They knew what they were risking and Mike, I’m just curious about something.
If you’re designing a spacecraft, presumably to make it safer and safer makes it more and
more expensive and probably heavier and heavier and heavier.
So, where do you draw the line to say, “90 percent is good; 99 percent is good,” and
Wanda, just to clarify, it’s not that people won’t—the issue here, I think, is not
the risk. The issue is people knowing their risk so
that there’s agreement on what the risk is so that if you both agree that I have a
10 percent chance of dying and I’m okay with that, Wanda presumably would be okay
with that. Dr. Tyson, I think you’re proceeding from
a false assumption. I’m Neil at a bar here.
Okay, go. Where’s my beer?
It’s a beerless debate. I’m sorry about that.
All right, go. Lower cost does not inherently mean less safe.
Our technology is an example of that. You get enhanced safety and lower cost at
the same time. It doesn’t have to be an either/or.
There’s this pernicious misperception that commercial space is going to somehow be less
safe or more dangerous or we care more about money than NASA.
Nothing could be farther from the truth. My boss, Robert Bigelow, has $250 million
of his own money wrapped up in this. I have my job and livelihood wrapped up on
this. If we have a bad day, we lose everything and
that isn’t to denigrate what NASA has done. Safety is very important, but no one should
say that safety isn’t job one, two and three in the commercial space flight industry.
Bob, when you were authoring legislation to open these doors, were you thinking that the
first 100 tourists would die? What was in your head?
That wouldn’t have been very politically smart.
No, when we were looking to open the door, what we were saying was that we think that
over the long haul, that that would in fact enhance safety; that simply because you have
more people involved, you have to have a greater commitment to safety than you do in programs
that are designed with high risk because the reward to national interest was such that
we were willing to do that. My thinking was that you expand the network,
you expand the way that we approach space and you will get much better ideas and those
will end up being safer ideas. I might say, Tom Shelley can speak to this
better than I can, but we’ve had the experience of Space Adventures with the people who fly.
They are interested in finding out just exactly what the risks are that they’re taking when
they do that and we go through a fairly comprehensive program to deal with that.
So, Tom, you don’t make your own spacecraft. No, we don’t.
You find seats that other people are sending into space.
That’s right. So, you don’t have to assess risk at all.
Oh, of course we assess the risk. Before we contract for that seat, we’ve
got to look at the risk that we’re going to be passing onto our clients, or asking
our clients to take on. Wanda, what’s the safest human space vehicle
there ever was? Neil, you have to think of it this way.
It doesn’t matter how safe it’s been. What matters is the one that you’re sitting
on, whether or not [inaudible 26:05], so let me say this.
We have looked at what the costs are to provide what we call mission assurance and it’s
not oodles of money. What it requires is that you think about it
up-front. In our business, it’s five, to maybe seven
percent of the total cost. I think most people would say, “Yeah. I’d
be willing to invest five percent to make sure we have a good day,” but going forward,
this is a challenge that we have to think about because just like we all get on commercial
aircraft today, that business is regulated so that the planes don’t bump into each
other. We know what the process is for takeoff and
landing and we’re ensured to have a safe flight.
So, I think that’s the key message. I think you’ve heard it across the board
today, that you can have lower cost from what the government charges today, but you can
also have an assurance that this is well thought through and we’ve taken every opportunity
we can to ensure that you have a safe flight. Okay, so Tom, you’re selling seats.
You sold seats on the Soyuz. Exactly.
For how much? For $52 million, currently.
I see a taker right there. Right there, Tom.
We’ve got a taker somewhere in the audience? Yeah, yeah.
The Soyz is… NASA is paying more.
NASA pays more. We’re a bargain.
$72 million for NASA. Well, just to clarify.
Since we, the United States, currently has no way to get to orbit unless we buy a seat
on somebody else’s spaceship, which would be the Soyuz, which may have been why we didn’t
boycott Russia, right? Remember all that talk?
Let’s boycott Russia, then how do we get to our own damn space station in space.
So, NASA is being charged $72 million and you’re being charged $52 million? Where’s
the $20 million going? Mission assurance.
And a monopoly provider of a service can charge anything they damn wish.
And like we invented monopolies here in America, so that’s how that…
Yeah, but the Russians have learned. They’ve learned, so I keep interrupting,
but go on, Tom. To go back to Wanda’s point, she’s absolutely
right. The best assurance of safety is the system
that is in-place and what’s important is the flight you’re going to get on.
But in explaining that to our clients, what we also have to look at is the flight history
and with the Soyuz, it’s flown now well over 100 times in succession without any type
of accident, incident or, in particular, fatality. There have been some other mission-related
issues, but never a fatality. That’s pretty good.
Issues, you like that? Mission issues.
Is this where one of them, the booster didn’t go and the thing re-entered and it crash-landed,
but the people survived? Well, what you mean when the launch escape
system worked effectively. Oh, that one?
Was that the one? Is that the one you’re talking about?
Oh, that’s the one I must have been talking about.
That was about 35 years ago, yeah. But Neil, this is the reason why we want to
be investing in what’s called the commercial crew program because, I mean, we actually
have three companies out there right now that are trying to build better, safer spacecraft
and they would be capable of carrying seven people to orbit.
They would be a U.S.-based type of vehicle. If we had that kind of participation in space
travel, you could begin to lower prices simply because there would be a competitive edge
on it. A quick question to Wanda.
I remember when the shuttle was first, sort of introduced.
One of the headlines was, “It is the most complex space vehicle ever flown.”
They were boasting of this fact and I’m thinking, “Why is that something to boast
of?” That means it has more parts, more risk of
failure and so, I just thought it was an odd thing to say, but I let it go.
Then, they said, “It’s reusable,” and so you think that would be a good thing except
reusing parts that have a lifetime, life expectancy, seems to me to put your next trip at higher
risk. So what’s the trade-off between a brand-new
space launch vehicle and trying to reuse one because you’re trying to be frugal?
Well, Neil, I think of it as do you want to be the one to drive the first car off the
line or maybe you’d like to purchase the 100th car off the line because you learn a
lot in the process. This is a hard business.
This is not a walk in the park. So, having the history, the flight history,
I would tell you with our DOD missions, we continued to…
Department of Defense… Learn things.
Department of Defense missions, thank you. We continue to learn things with every flight,
even though we have been doing this for 54 years.
You sound like the engineer who, after the rocket explodes on the launch pad, they say,
“This was a launch rich in learning opportunities.” And we will learn because there will be things
that you don’t anticipate. There are unknown unknowns, but it’s a fabulous,
fabulous opportunity for us. We are explorers by nature.
I know that this will be a phenomenal experience for my children and grandchildren, who will
look forward to this and take it for granted that you can go to space.
So, Neil, I need to sign off. I know it’s going to be a great debate here
in the bar, that there’s going to be a lot of stories traded, but I think that one consistent
message is we think this is a great, great thing for the world; that we will explore
and we will learn and then, we will explore some more.
So, thanks for very much for including me in this discussion.
Let me end with a quick question. I know you’ve got to run, but I’ve got
you right here right now. I’m staring at you.
Yes. See that?
I’m looking at you here. Yes, yes.
Not letting me go. I got it.
I got a question for you. So, I need your assessment, your professional
assessment—oh, by the way. I meant to ask.
Remind me. Aren’t you from the ‘hood here?
I’m from New York. I grew up in the Bronx.
In the Bronx? The Bronx in the house.
And we always have to ask you what high school you went to.
Bronx Science, of course. All right.
Okay, so I meant to—it’s local stuff here. We’ll get back to you in a minute.
No, so of everything you’ve seen today, we can all applaud the entrepreneurship.
But when is it ready for prime time? Or do you think people are over-selling their
products? Or when do you think they will be ready, based
on your professional assessment, if not now, then when?
I think that we are taking the right steps. We’re, Virgin Galactic has touched space.
We’re talking about—and the NASA side going to asteroids.
We’re talking about flights going through space.
We’re talking about habitats. All of these innovative ideas come together
to ultimately provide a capability that we will leverage.
So, I think we are already—we’ve already walked through the door, Neil.
This is not something that maybe will happen. This is something that’s already happening
and what we’re saying is, as more and more people provide the opportunity to go to space—recognize
there are 15 space-faring nations today. It’s not just about what’s happening in
the U.S., so we need to come together and think about how do we do this in a smart and
cost-effective manner? So, we’re already there.
Wanda Austin, thank you for joining this panel. Wanda has left the building.
So, Elliot, first time getting to you here. Thanks for your patience.
Not a problem. You oversee an organization on whose board
I once served. Just disclosure here, the Space Foundation,
that is the centerpiece of so many space activities: government, military, commercial, educational
and you’re at the fulcrum of that. I want to ask you, I’ve been to some of
the big conferences there. No one is talking about risk, really.
Everyone is very dreamy and do you just have to sort of be a cheerleader along with everyone,
or when you get home, do you say, “Boy, I don’t know if this will ever get into
the future.” You have to be realistic about it.
You’re trying to be a champion for the industry. You’re trying to be champion, really, for
this cause, this great cause of human exploration of space.
One of the perspectives that I have on the commercial efforts that are going on commercial
efforts that are going on is that everybody needs to kind of chill out and remember that
these are business people that do not want to lose money.
They understand it’s not in anybody’s interest for them to blow anybody else up.
That’s good to know. If you look particularly at Virgin Galactic,
since Wanda brought it up, Virgin Galactic is…
This is Branson’s… This is Sir Richard Branson’s sub-orbital
flight program. They have been testing SpaceShipTwo and have
had some successful engine firings. So, this is a tourist experience where you’ll
get in the vehicle. You’ll fly up just technically into space,
so 100 kilometers, plus or minus. We can say that you’ve been to space.
You’re an astronaut. But the companies behind this are companies
that run railway systems, train lines, airplanes, freight.
These guys have safety in their blood, and so it’s not like they’re all talking about
risk because nobody wants to talk about it, but they certainly know how to mitigate it.
I think that the bigger issue for us as a society is how much risk we are willing to
accept as a nation or as a people. I think we’ve become incredibly risk-averse.
If you look at our national outpouring of hand-wringing and grief for—of course, it’s
sad when you lose a life. I understand that, but I mean, hundreds and
hundreds of people die crossing the street every week and we don’t say anything about,
“That, oh, boy. If somebody gets killed in a airplane accident,” or something like
this, we all lose our minds about it. I think if you look back at when we were pioneering
aviation, we understood that every single flight, you were learning something and that
you’re going to break something. Yeah, but the difference is—I mildly don’t
agree with you because it’s not that we’re risk-averse.
It’s that if you’re going to take a risk, let it be for a reward that is greater than
anything the current risk profiles have been offering.
So, if you’re going to say there’s a one percent chance you might not come back from
low-earth orbit, I’m saying I’m not taking that risk.
Right. But there’s only a 10 percent chance you
might come back from Mars, and no one has been to Mars before and you’ll be the first
person to put boot prints on it, yeah. That’s a whole other conversation.
And you should be the person to make the determination what level of risk you are willing to take.
Okay. Let’s gang up on Neil.
When did we, as a country, become so frightened of risk?
Thank you. When did Americans wake up as cowards?
Mike Gold for President. No, I think if you’re not extending a frontier,
there is no justification to absorb high risk. But isn’t that…
And all we’ve been doing—you know this—all we’ve been doing for 40 years is driving
around the block, boldly going where hundreds have gone before.
So, where—so give me a place to go and I think that people will be lined up.
Isn’t it true… Hold on, Neil.
Now you’re treading on Star Trek and that’s sacred ground.
Sacred ground. Where are my Star Trek fans?
Huh? What does Captain Kirk say?
Risk is part of this game. Yes, the government gone around.
Risk is our business, he says. Risk is our business.
That’s why we’re here. That’s why that starship is here.
We know the speech, but you’re not just going around.
The government has gone up and go around. Let’s go back to the Montana analogy.
You are going up there to create an industry to settle a frontier.
That hasn’t happened yet. Just because a couple of hundred astronauts
have been up there, that’s not finishing the job.
That’s beginning it. Neil, I’m not certain I agree with your
premise, that the only reason why you go is because there is some massive reward to get.
I drive race cars as a hobby. I’m not going to win anything, but I have
a heck of a good time doing it. You drive race cars?
Yeah. So, the fact is…
You drive race cars? Yeah, I haven’t done it in the last couple
of years and so on, but I’ve spent… What’d you drive?
What’d you drive? Formula 2000 cars.
That’s cool. You never invited me.
Bob Walker and I, he was the chair of a commission, a White House commission on which I served
and he served as chair, appointed by George W. Bush, to study the future of America’s
aerospace industry. That’s when I first got to meet Bob.
That’s why I can justifiably ask him, “How come you never invited me to this?” Okay,
Bob makes an excellent point, to which I concede. Let me make an even stronger rebuttal.
One of the big differences in this shift from public-sponsored human [tradable 40:09] to
private-sponsored human tradable is the acceptance of higher risk in the private sector.
You say it has to be great reward. If it’s a government truth, but how many
people don’t come back from climbing Everest? Yeah, it’s a lot, a lot.
And they accept that risk and it’s not something that nobody has done before.
For them, it’s the first time, so why shouldn’t being in zero gravity, why shouldn’t be
five minutes with the view from near, kind of near-orbit, be worth for an individual
taking risks? Tom what reasons do people give you for wanting
to go into space, other than that they have a huge billfold.
Well, that’s a requirement in order for us to get into a conversation, but after that…
So, you’re like in the casino in the back room that no one ever sees.
Exactly. Yeah, okay.
We come knocking occasionally. It’s a very personal motivation.
It could be they were inspired as a child by some things they saw, the Apollo programs
or something else. Or in the case of one of our clients, they
read about the experience in The New York Times sitting in Starbuck’s and they thought,
“I’ve done just about everything else. I haven’t done that,” and they pick up
the phone and give us a call. Who knows?
That’s how it works? That’s how it worked one time.
Let me find out. So, John, what’s the total cost of the Apollo
program? In today’s dollars, $162 billion.
$162 billion to get how many men on the moon? Twelve.
Twelve men on the moon. One failed mission, Apollo 13.
Apollo 13. Six successful landings, plus Apollo 7, 8,
9 and 10, which were test flights before the first landing.
Right and Apollo 10, if I remember correctly actually went to the moon, descended a bit.
Forty thousand feet. In the LEM, right?
Yeah. It was an absolute dress rehearsal.
And they just went down most of the way to the surface and then, came back up.
Yep. See, if I were in the LEM at the time, I would
have just said, “Uh, Houston, I can’t hear you. What did you say? Oh, continue?
Change mission? You’re breaking up, Houston.” They were tempted.
Yeah. But they wouldn’t have gotten back up off
the moon. The thing was too heavy.
Oh, okay. That’s good incentive right there.
So, Tom, I keep finding myself coming back to you.
That’s okay. If you guys collectively, especially whatever
Bob’s vision was when he drafted this legislation, if the idea is to make this for everyone,
you’re not talking about everyone. You’re not even talking about the one percent.
Correct. You’re talking about the one percent of
the one percent. That’s correct, but you’ve got to start
somewhere. All right.
But in the early days of aviation, it was very wealthy people that were able to participate
in the early days of aviation, too. The women wore gloves.
I mean, you got dressed up to go on an airplane. Nobody thought of Southwest, right?
So, let me ask you. Is your demand curve elastic?
If you dropped the price in half, will you have twice as many people signing up? We’d
have more than twice as many people, we believe, yes.
So, let me sort of give a longer answer to this.
You’ve got to start somewhere and yes, at the moment, it is just for the well-heeled
and well-motivated because there’s a degree of time you’ve got to take out of your schedule,
as well. To prepare for this.
To prepare for it. Yeah, but what we’ve been doing is now the
first flight was in 2001 and what has come since then is a lot of this investment that
we’re already here talking about, which is in new rockets, whether it’s with SpaceX
and Boeing and Sierra Nevada, or the sub-orbital space flight programs with Virgin Galactic,
XCOR and the others, a lot of them can trace some of their fundraising activities and the
justification in the market demands that Space Adventures helped to create and to demonstrate.
So, they could point to our clients and say, “Look. If people are prepared to pay tens
of millions of dollars to go to orbit, we can stick a couple of those people on these
flights with the NASA guys and then, we can suddenly make it a cost-effective business
and justify this investment,” or you can send these people into sub-orbit.
John, what do the right stuff guys say that nowadays, someone could just plunk down $50
million and go into space just the way they did?
Well, they’re not around anymore, except for Senator Glenn.
I think that they are ambivalent about it. You saw Armstrong, Cernan and Lovell testifying
against commercial a couple of years [inaudible 45:29].
Yeah, that was a little weird for me. So, Neil Armstrong, the first man to walk
on the moon, Eugene Cernan, the last man to walk on the moon and Jim Lovell, commander
of Apollo 13, famously portrayed by Tom Hanks in the movie, Apollo 13, okay.
And I don’t think they—they argued that… In Congress…
In Congress, before both the Senate and the House.
Were you around back then? No.
Okay. That only the government could do this safely;
that the risk-taking profile of the private sector was not likely to lead to successful
at an acceptable level of risk that government astronauts to orbit.
So, it should be a strategic asset for the U.S. government.
I’m sure a lot of people sitting here will disagree with that.
But on the other hand, one of the original astronauts, Deke Slayton, had one of the early
commercial space companies. When we were developing the whole idea of
commercial space, Deke Slayton’s Conestoga rocket were one of the early space companies.
So, there is a division among the early astronauts about where the future lies.
Pete Conrad was another one that was enthusiastic about commercial space.
Pete Conrad and Deke Slayton thought commercial space was cool before it was.
That’s right. Let me just say for the audience, it’s not
as if we’re launching into some sort of unregulated Wild West.
For all commercial space activities, we have the FAA’s Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
We’ve got a couple of representatives from the group here and the number two, who’s
in the audience today, is an astronaut. So, don’t tell me that this good man, who’s
an astronaut and a Marine, is going to let us do anything that’s unsafe.
All right, so now we’re up against three of our most marquee astronauts testifying
in front of Congress, but from what you just say, I hadn’t heard this whole story.
So, they were not referring to the public going into space.
They were referring to Bigelow making a spaceship that NASA then sort of rents out to get our
own astronauts to do our own job. Not Bigelow, because they’re not building
space transportation. But as an example, a start-up.
But going. Whippersnapper.
Well, you know, truth be known, they were really complaining about Elon Musk.
They don’t trust Elon, and we could go down that route if you want, but…
Elon Musk founded SpaceX and Tesla Motors, so he’s like a modern-day Iron Man, right?
Iron Man was actually filmed in his facility. Is that right?
Yeah. I didn’t know that.
But the fact is, what that says is that we trust the Russians to provide better safety
than we think our own people can provide because we’re flying our astronauts regularly on
Russian spacecraft. That seems to me to be a somewhat illogical
position, particularly given what we’re paying for those flights presently.
But it doesn’t have to be a them versus us mentality.
I that’s been part of the problem with Elon. He’s been so divisive and he’s done wonderful
things. Wait, wait, wait.
He’s trying to bring launch activity back to the United States.
Yes. You got a problem with that?
Absolutely not. America innovated commercial space launch
and we were number one. We went from being number one to having only
one commercial space launch. Not until SpaceX came along did we actually
bring an industry that had been shipped entirely overseas back to American shores.
My company is an example. We went to Russia.
Why? Not because of the weather.
The launches were three times cheaper than what it would have been here in the U.S.
So, Elon is getting cheaper launches now. Absolutely and he’s bringing a whole industry
with him. That’s a good thing.
That is a good thing. Notice I didn’t say they were opposed—didn’t
trust SpaceX. I don’t trust Elon.
It’s an important difference because of the personality.
This is streaming on the internet, just do you know.
I know. Okay, all right.
You’ll hear from Elon tomorrow. Just-
No doubt. I’ve had that experience.
Streaming on the internet. But entrepreneurs are often divisive.
Precisely. Yeah, that’s right.
Precisely. And you’re a baseball fan, Neil, and you
remember Dizzy B. You’re not that old.
He said, “It ain’t bragging if you can do it.”
That’s a great line. So, Mike, I’ve got to get back to you here.
I heard, just correct me if I’m wrong, that in your grand vision of space domination,
you want to actually sell real estate on the moon.
Did I read that right? If you got the money, sure, because I know with Cosmos, you may
have some dollars to spare, so—no. Let me be clear on this.
Again, we talk about the Montana example—and forgive me for running home to that.
Wait, wait. I will not let you continue the Montana example.
You know why? Why?
Because the homesteaders, you can ask, “What did it cost you to go cut down a few trees
and build a house?” Yep.
Okay, whereas to go first into space costs money.
Right. You can’t just say, “Let me go into space
and pitch tent,” because you can’t breathe the air because there’s no air.
There’s no fruit on the trees. So, don’t tell me Montana and space.
It’s very—for all you streaming in Big Sky country, we’re still with you.
Those homesteaders went out and yes, it’s costly.
Even more costly than homesteading, but you’ve got something at the end of it.
You’ve got the land. That’s why we think it’s critical to have
that incentive of property rights for us to actually go out and settle space, which again,
hasn’t happened right. Now, to be clear…
Oh, so you want to use it as a model. Yes.
So, you want to say if Tom manages to put together some seats that go to the moon and
you’re the first to do it, you can say, “This is my plot of land right here,”
because I’m the first here and I spent the money to do it and I’m going to develop
it and farming and railroads. You can’t say that because it would get
you in trouble with the United Nations, but what I think you can ask for is at least non-interference.
Why would this be trouble with the United Nations?
The UN, we signed a treaty called the Outer Space Treaty of 1967 which prevents national
appropriation. No, I said he would own it for himself.
Still can’t do it. It’d be private actors act through the state,
so if I came and planted my flag, the U.S. government would have to answer to that.
So, you can’t do it. What you can reasonably expect is the ability
to operate on a non-interference basis for no one else to come and then do anything to
you and for you to enjoy the fruits of your labor; that if you mine helium-3 or find other
rare elements, you can utilize and benefit from that because if you can’t, who’s
going to make this investment? Nothing will happen, which is what’s been
happening for 50 years. Let’s move forward.
When you were drafting commercial legislation, were you thinking about people buying property
in space? Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that
might be an outcome. The fact is that what you want to do is you
want to attract investment. You shouldn’t have the whole bill for going
to space be the government’s bill. You ought to find attractive things to do
in space. So, for example, while you wouldn’t own
property on the space station, if you can go to the space station, use those laboratories
to develop a product that actually—a pharmaceutical product, for instance—that might have great
value on earth, you should be able to keep the rights to that product, having developed
it in space. That is what will attract investors is the
moment that they figure out that there is a potential to create things in space that
you cannot create on earth. Elliot, what’s the international landscape
here? Lately, your annual symposia have attracted
quite a bit of international participation. Yes.
So, we’re thinking like American capitalists here and that’s very natural for us.
I was telling them a story in the Green Room, where when I was in graduate school, a Russian
student had just come in. This was before the Wall came down.
I found myself—I forgot why—talking about childhood games and I was describing the game
of Monopoly. We’ve all played it as Americans and he
said, “Well, how do you win?” I said, “Oh. You end up with all the money
and all the property and everyone else is broke.”
Then, I’d never heard myself say that before. He’s from Communist Russia, Soviet Union,
and so, not everyone will necessarily think this way, so what’s your pulse of what everyone
else thinks is the right conduct in space? Well, it’s interesting.
The international participation in space is really in the upswing.
One of the things that we see is more and more engagement in our activities by international
companies. The conference that you’re talking about,
the Space Symposium, over the last several years, a lot of our U.S. government contractors
have been scaling back. They’ve had their budgets cut and all the
slack is being taken up by international companies. Companies from Europe, companies from Asia
and so forth, who are on the ascendency. You may have—I don’t know how many of
you saw a global precipitation measurement mission launch a few weeks ago.
Big NASA satellite, very important payload for weather for the entire planet and it was
launched out of Japan by the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency.
So, other countries are getting very, very good at this space business.
They do bring their own cultures and their own flavors to things and the bit about the
Outer Space treaty is pretty serious. They do take that treaty to be a serious,
thoughtful treaty that a lot of countries have signed and it basically says nobody can
own the moon. That is a legacy for mankind, for human kind.
So, there’s a very strong flavor of that. Is that idea just something in the time and
in the moment? You can’t own the moon because it’s—think
of what the moon was at the time the treaty was signed.
We haven’t even landed there since. Yeah.
I think at the time the treaty was signed was very much a product of the Cold War and
product of what was driving the dominant space programs and there was a great concern that
there would be whoever got there first, there would be this hegemony over the moon that
we didn’t want to happen. So, I think it’s fair in today’s context
to say, “Let’s go back and take a look at it.” However, as John can tell you, getting
the United Nations to go back and take a look at something is not going to happen this week.
It’s a real process. But we signed the treaty.
We signed the treaty. Went to the moon and put an American flag
there, not a United Nations’ flag. But we didn’t then say, “I claim this
in the name of Richard Nixon.” We did not say we claim this for the United
States of America. Okay, so we didn’t say we claim the moon
in the name of Richard Nixon. Right.
No, Neil Armstrong did not say that. I can vouch for that.
So, what I wonder though, as times change, the universe is huge.
It’s vast. To start running around and saying you can’t
own stuff in space, why should space be any different from owning land on earth?
You didn’t birth the earth. I think you’re exactly right and I think
that probably what’s going to be more interesting for commercial ventures in terms of wanting
to own resources at this point, is going to be things like asteroid mining where there
is no law that says you can’t do that. If you have the ways and means to go out,
snag an asteroid that’s carrying $16 trillion dollars’ worth of platinum and bring it
back and you can make a profit on that, knock yourself out.
There’s nothing to stand in your way and I think you will see those types of efforts
moving forward. Of course, if it has $16 trillion dollars’
of platinum on it and you bring it back to earth, it’s no longer worth $16 trillion.
Exactly right. Economics 101, you’ve just flooded the platinum
market. Well, but if you’re smart like De Beers,
you’ll control that. It’s the reason why diamonds are worth so
much and it’s not their composition. You were blowing a gasket a couple of seconds
ago. What’s up with you?
I’m terrified of talking about history in front of the professor here, but when the
Outer Space treaty was signed, to your point, the primary purpose was simply to keep weapons
of mass destruction off the moon. The whole concept of private property rights
was pushed off until the Moon Treaty, which actually would have prohibited commercial
operations, which is why no space-faring nation signed it.
Wait, wait. John, you’re telling me that we signed a
treaty on the moon to keep weapons of mass destruction off the moon so that we wouldn’t
destroy the moon? Yeah.
Really? Yeah. That was the purpose of the treaty.
Man, that was a messed-up era. Yeah.
Man. One of the proposals of Von Braun and his
team in the late ’50s… Werner Von Braun, who built the Saturn V rocket
for America after we snatched him off the line at the end of the Second World War.
It was called Project Horizon and it talked about the moon is high ground in Cold War
But in terms of the current environment, we recently filed a request with the FAA to establish
this… Federal Aviation Administration.
Federal Aviation Administration, thank you, for that zone of non-interference and the
voice of Russia came out with an article supporting this action and saying, “We need to look
at this issue to avoid future conflict. We need rules of the road.”
Well, and there is at least some talk that the Chinese have decided that it is high ground
for future activities and so… Activities.
Well, that the Chinese… Using the word activities and high ground
in the same sentence, which means… Which means that the Chinese might use it
for military purposes at some point. Okay.
And we don’t know that to be the case, but there is certainly a number of people who
have looked at what they’re doing that have come to the conclusion that that might be
their reason for going there. What I’m saying is treaties, you know, may
have to be looked at in light of where the human experience goes.
I mean, there’s a treaty that says that you can’t invade Ukraine, too, but it is
subject to interpretation, obviously. I would point out the Outer Space Treaty is
also a particularly toothless treaty because you can pull out after a year.
One year and you’re out, and that’s a launch delay in our industry.
Right. So, tell me more about what you want to put
into space. I’ve read your profiles.
You want to create a whole space station for the rest of us rather than government conceived,
with hab modules that connect. Absolutely.
And these are hab modules that you might put on the moon and on Mars.
Mars 1, this organization wants to send people on a one-way trip to Mars.
Yep. So, let me tell you, I would pay $25 million
not to be in a capsule for even 48 hours. And we talk about going out into space, you
need larger volumes. And that’s where this technology came from.
What we’re developing is a next-generation habitat that will serve as a commercial space
station. ISS won’t be there forever, and NASA’s—
International Space Station. International—thank you.
We love our acronyms in space. And technically they’re not acronyms unless
you can pronounce them. That’s true.
Which I can’t, anyway So, ISS is an abbreviation but NASA is an
Yeah. Just saying.
But I interrupted. Go on.
Now I’m afraid to use an acronym. I’m going to say International Space Station
every time now. We’re building—we’re taking these habitats
and evolving them to create a commercial complement to the International Space Station and an
eventual successor. Right now, there’s, what, three seats for
Americans and Russians on the ISS, two, maybe one, for the rest of the world.
We think for, what, five billion, six billion people, there’s more interest in astronautics
than one seat right now. So, we think that’s a great opportunity, and
to move forward with the sort of micro-gravity research and development that was being discussed.
There are wonderful drug treatments, cancer treatments, material science.
We need to find a way to monetize space. Okay, so I’m a pharmacist and I have a cool
experiment. I now pay you to gain access to that space
so I can do my experiment, kind of what Bob was saying earlier.
Absolutely. And you know what you hear from the pharmaceutical
industry? It’s not so much the cost, it’s regular access.
Because imagine on a terrestrial laboratory, if you could only conduct your experiment
once every five years for 20 minutes, not a lot of good science would be done this way.
With a commercial space station, you can get regular, ongoing access and really create
some good science to help us here on Earth. All right, your boy, Bigelow himself, put
in how much of his own money into your company? Two hundred and fifty million, which is why
I won’t call him my boy. In the ‘hood, we would call him that.
So, I just want to ask you, he is the angel investor of his own company.
When do you ever expect to turn a profit or even any revenue at all?
So, when we talk about commercial space, one of the things that Mr. Bigelow has been so
bold in doing is we’re not looking to recapture our research and development money, that that’s
going to be something— Then it’s not a business model.
Then this is a charade. Absolutely not.
We want the ongoing profits so that we can take that money, reinvest it in moving out
further and do it more. Is he ever going to get his $250 million back?
He will get that back and more, or I won’t have a job.
That’s why he’ll get it back because you otherwise won’t have a job.
That’s the confidence you give me? Well, we’re all going to work really hard.
Again, this technology is good for commercial operations in low Earth orbit and is critical
for going beyond low Earth orbit. Again, this was conceived of to take astronauts
to Mars. As NASA looks at going back to the moon, possibly
Mars, they need these systems for that. And again, you can’t tell me that for five
billion people, one astronautic opportunity, one seat, is all that there is interest in
the world today. It’s seven billion.
Well, minus Russia and China. I’m even worse with numbers than acronyms,
so I’m not going to [go there]. Gotcha.
Bob, when you wrote the legislation, I’m just curious, did you have in mind that NASA would
then just buy these hab modules and access them, or were you actually thinking of the
public gaining access to space? Both.
I mean, I think that if you create the infrastructure, that then NASA can use.
Whether it’s launch vehicles or whether or not it’s space on orbit, that it may be better
for the government to actually purchase that as a service than it is to go out and build
it on its own. Like the Post Office buying space in the belly
of Delta Airlines to carry mail. Sure.
Or the fact that the Post Office now operates in private facilities as well as their own
public facilities. There are all kinds of reasons to have a vibrant
commercial network that can be drawn on by not only the public but by government as well.
And that’s the opportunity that we create when we expand the commercial opportunities.
So, Tom, I don’t mind saving maybe five years of my vacation money to go into space.
I would not go on vacation for four years, save it and then put it in my fifth-year vacation
and do that into space. If I do that, no matter how successful Cosmos
is, I will not have $52 million to do this. How soon in the future do you imagine folks
who might have gone to Disneyland, Disneyworld, save up five years of that and then go into
space? How soon?
It’s a long way away, frankly. Can you quantify that, please?
Well, it depends on again your definition of space.
Do you want to go on a Virgin Galactic flight for five minutes and come back again, is that-?
Wait, let’s establish that right now. Okay, space.
We just heard a guy named Felix Baumgartner do a jump from the edge of space, and I tweeted
about that. I’m on the edge of my seat.
I said, well, how high up is he? I look up the numbers, I did the math and
I carried the two, and I said, wait a minute, if you shrink down this feat to scale it to
a schoolroom globe of the earth, where would he be relative to the schoolroom globe?
He’d be one millimeter above the surface. And somebody is calling that the edge of space.
Elliot, is that the edge of space? Not even close.
Not even close. But, but, there are people out there who have
an operational definition of space, which I take some issue with but I will share it
with you nonetheless. People are thinking space would be—back
up. In the daytime, you cannot see stars because
sunlight scatters into the atmosphere, rendering it aglow, and it’s taking blue light out of
the sun, giving us a blue sky. Sky blue.
The sky is glowing, preventing you from seeing stars.
So, how high up would you have to go so that most of the atmosphere is below you and you
don’t get the sky glow and then you can see the stars?
Operationally that’s about 100 kilometers, 60 miles, up.
And so, that’s been the operating definition of space.
I take issue because if Earth’s atmosphere were half its current pressure, then space
would be at 50 kilometers up. And if it had a fourth its pressure, it would
be 25 kilometers up. If we didn’t have atmosphere at all, space
would be— Right here.
Right here. Okay?
Because on the moon, you could look up and see stars in the daytime, as you would on
Earth if we didn’t have an atmosphere. So, that definition of space, I don’t like
it. But let’s keep it for the moment.
Let’s just accept it. You got people—when you say low Earth orbit,
you’re going up to 100 kilometers and coming back.
No, you’re going up to— No, that’s sub-orbit.
That’s just— To about 400 kilometers, 250 miles.
You’re going a little higher? Yeah, to the International Space Station,
low Earth orbit. No, no, no, I’m talking about these joy rides
up and back. That’s sub-orbit.
Yes. Sub-orbit is 100 kilometers, correct.
One hundred kilometers. And that’s what we’re doing now.
And that’s what— It’s not been done yet.
We’re not doing it yet. Not yet.
It’s what— Hasn’t been done yet?
It’s what Virgin Galactic is working towards. Yeah.
There’s a number of companies. Space Adventures, Virgin Galactic and XCOR
are developing different vehicles of different types—
For that mission [inaudible]. So, what do you call space?
I go with the definition that the astronauts and everybody else uses, which is 100 kilometers.
That’s the traditional point that we pegged it at.
We can argue it’s a little higher, it’s a little lower, whatever you want to say, but
that’s been the—it’s been the standard. So, if I go up and come back, I’m an astronaut.
If you go—if you crack that 100-kilometer distance, you have gone into space and you
are an astronaut. And the FAA I believe even has a criteria—somebody
here can answer that—that they will be able to award astronaut wings to civilians who
have done this. You don’t have to be a NASA astronaut to get
your astronaut wings anymore. But that’s the definition.
Our first space flight by Alan Shepard was to do basically what we now call [TALKOVER].
Okay, so I’m trying to understand— So, back to your guy Felix Baumgartner—
He’s not my guy. He’s Red Bull’s guy.
Exactly. Red Bull’s guy.
Red Bull is really smart. They sold an awful lot of power drink behind
this because they understand that people are still extremely excited about space.
And so, everything you saw, it’s a leap from the edge of space, a space jump, he’s in a
capsule. No, he’s not in a capsule, he’s in a gondola.
A capsule makes a ballistic re-entry; a gondola hangs under a balloon.
But everything they did— Those are different, yeah.
They are very different. And all the terminology they used.
The design of his jumpsuit was designed to look like an astronaut’s space suit.
The beautiful wide-angle fish eye lens picture that shows the earth curving, to get that
curvature in a regular lens, you would have had to have been about 300 miles higher than
the space station. Right.
So, it was all baloney. It was all baloney.
But— Just to clarify because I even tweeted it—
Double—yeah. Oh, you’re on a roll.
Oh no, it’s ok. So, the photo showed him ready to jump, and in the background you saw the
curve of Earth’s surface. And I did the math on that—no.
No, not even close. You cannot see the curve.
He’s a millimeter above the schoolroom globe; you don’t see a curve there, right?
No. That’s right.
So, that’s just the wide-angle lens that curves horizontal lines about the mid plain.
How high was he? Twenty-three miles, I believe.
So, not even a third of the way there. But let’s not take away the fact that’s an
incredibly—incredible stunt. When you talk about risk, there was a high
risk. The issue is—
It was a badass stunt. Badass stunt, but it was not—
But they brought in the word “space,” and that’s when I take issue.
Absolutely. And that was all to sell product.
And so, it’s both the sublime and ridiculous. It’s ridiculous because it’s all baloney.
It’s sublime because they understood how powerful emotional space is and they used that to sell
a lot of product. Plus, the dude broke Mach 1.
He was bookin’. Falling pretty fast.
Yeah. Except with the help of gravity.
Yes, he was moving fast. Earth helped that a bit.
Gravity had much more effect on him than Sandra Bullock.
Sorry. Love you, Sandra.
So, you go up 100—you’re saying right now who is taking us up 100 kilometers?
Nobody is right now. There are companies who are working on it.
And I would say in the next three to five years, regular—
And what would it actually cost? Presumably not $52 million.
That’s between $100,000 and $250,000, depending on which vehicle you want to fly up.
That’s cheap compared with $52 million. Compared to $52 million, it is.
Absolutely. Comparable to climbing Mt. Everest.
You get Red Bull for this? And you could afford that in your five-year
estimate. Okay, so that’s the five-year horizon, then.
Yes. In order for a—forgive me—a real space
flight where you’re going up into low Earth orbit and you’re completing a full revolution
of the earth, in order for that to become more attainable and to come down from the
$52 million, there’s a number of things that need to happen.
Such as? The launch costs needs to come down, and in
order for launch costs to come down, we need to have reusability of the vehicle and particularly
the launch vehicle that is getting us up there. There’s a huge—
Because we don’t rebuild a 747 every time you board it.
Correct. You reuse the one that flew in.
Correct. And at the moment, all of the launches that
take place, it’s all thrown away afterwards. It’s one-time use only.
And the next Falcon 9 launch— I was going to say…
Will go up with struts. Will go up with struts.
[TALKOVER], by the way, without a dime of government investment.
Do we all know that that’s got legs on it, landing legs on it, the Falcon 9?
What? The next Falcon 9.
The Falcon 9 that is going to launch in the space station later this month—
This is the SpaceX craft. SpaceX launch rocket that will carry a capsule
to the station has landing legs on it. They won’t be deployed, but they’re testing
the aerodynamics and other features of this. Sorry, I don’t know what landing legs are.
Well, it’s like the old Marvin the Martian where the rocket comes down on its end and
the legs come out and go down like this. Those are—
And it [TALKOVER]. And it does a squat.
And whoo, you’re down. It pliés on landing.
It does. And SpaceX has taken this, they have a program
that they call Grasshopper, which uses these legs with all the spring in them, and they
have successfully flown this thing off the launch pad and back using this landing system.
So, now, they’re going to test the aerodynamics in flight.
So, this drops the price? So, this drops the price.
It has the potential to— It has the potential to drop the price.
Because you’ve got [TALKOVER]. In the Sierra Nevada program—
Dreamchaser. It actually lands horizontally like this—like
the— Like a plane.
Like a plane, yeah. So that you do have reusability there.
But the thing that does bring down the price, and it doesn’t bring it down to where you
want to be, but the fact is you have seven seats aboard most of these spacecraft that
are now being designed means that instead of one seat available for tourists, you might
have as many as four, five, six seats available for space tourists.
That in itself can lower the price. Wait, can it?
Because John, what’s the cost of getting one pound of anything into orbit right now?
Depends on how you get it there. But let’s say, again, if you use SpaceX it’s
right now about a third of the cost of using an Atlas V or a Delta IV.
Give me some numbers. I’m going to make them up.
Let’s say $6,000 a pound. Six thousand dollars a pound.
For the expensive ones. SpaceX says it can do it for less than $1,000
a pound. Okay, so that’s—and NASA had been doing
it for how much, Elliot? When NASA puts—
More zeroes. More zeroes, okay.
More zeroes. On the Shuttle.
When the Shuttle was—when Richard Nixon approved the Shuttle, it was going to cost
$7 million to launch, and it ended up costing about a quarter of a billion dollars to launch.
I think it was more than that. Two to three hundred million.
The Shuttle was about $100,000 a pound, I think.
There were very optimistic engineers in 1971. A hundred thousand dollars a pound.
So, it’s incentive to really sort of get in shape for that, you know.
Get on the treadmill. We don’t charge per pound, I’ll just say.
We charge per seat. Per seat.
But if you’ve seen a Soyuz capsule, yes, Neil, you would need to lose some weight to get
into the Soyuz. As would I.
That don’t get you out of that just because you include yourself in this.
I was trimmer for Cosmos. So, you don’t charge—you don’t weigh people
and then hand them a bill? Correct.
Okay, that’s good. Yes.
I would think. So, how soon are we going to be putting tourists
into orbit that is not—? I think if you believe what SpaceX is doing,
then I think easily within the next ten years. I think that’s perfectly possible.
And you drop the cost down to $1,000 a pound, so then that might even be in reach of just
regular rich people like the 1 percent rather than the 1 percent—
Yeah, you may get it down into the small-digit millions as opposed to tens of millions, yeah.
Okay, that’s a start. It’s a start.
Yeah, yeah, okay. And you’ve got to start somewhere.
That’s what I said, you know… I- And is there any hope that this will ever
just be what we can all do? Yeah, I think once you get to that point where
you bring launch costs down significantly, once you have business cases, reasons to go
into space on a regular basis, whether it’s for mining asteroids, mining the moon or doing
science up on space stations, you’re going to increase the volume of the launch that
takes place every year. You’re going to continue to bring down the
cost. The economies of scale kick in.
And yeah, absolutely. We’ve got people concerned about automobiles
such as the Hummer because of its carbon footprint, and now you’re going to have a rich person
take a spaceship to go joyriding around the earth.
Yep. Are you ready for that conversation?
About the carbon footprint of that? Yes.
Okay, how are you ready for it? Because you can’t invent technology before
there is a market and before there is a demonstrated need for it.
You’ve got to pollute for a little while so that people can put their money into inventing
something that’s going to not pollute, right? Wow.
That’s an interesting quote… That’s quotable.
You have to pollute for a little while so that you can get investors to then create
a product that doesn’t pollute. Sure.
We didn’t go straight to an electric car, did we?
No. We’ve been driving fossil-fueled cars for
at least a century. That’s before we even knew that it would pollute.
We hadn’t really thought that one through. Yeah.
But we’ve got people who’ve thought it through now.
That’s all I’m saying. We’ve got clean rocket technology.
We do. I mean, it’s possible to fly a liquid hydrogen-liquid
oxygen rocket that emits water vapor. Yeah.
That’s [TALKOVER]. Yeah, but that’s a [TALKOVER].
That’s an investment. Yeah, yeah.
But the hydrogen and oxygen, so that would be like the big, orange tank of the Shuttle—
Yeah. Had two tanks within it, one tank twice the
size of the other. Right.
The bigger one of the two contained hydrogen, and the small one of the two contained oxygen.
It fuses them together—not fuse, it brings them together, and you get two hydrogens,
one oxygen, that gives you water as a byproduct, and a huge amount of energy.
Right. But you needed energy to split the hydrogen
and the oxygen to begin with. No, that’s not the way it worked.
What? Oh, okay, I see where you’re going.
The manufacturing of those two gasses into liquids requires a manufacturing apparatus
of some kind. You’ve got to get your hydrogen somewhere.
You’re probably going to get it from the water molecule.
And water is very tightly bonded. That’s why you can drink it in you and it
comes out still as water. Whereas you eat a steak, it doesn’t come out
of you as still a steak, right? So, water—very fundamental chemical physics
here. So, the water molecule—
Whose bar are we in? So, the water—I’m just saying, you drink
water molecules that probably have been unscathed since the beginning of the earth, having passed
through the kidneys of Genghis Khan, right? So, now, you’ve got to get your hydrogen,
break the water molecule apart. You don’t get the hydrogen from water.
Where are you getting the hydrogen from? From natural gas.
You peel a carbon atom out of natural gas, and that’s where they get the hydrogen that
they use aboard the Shuttle system, for example. Did you have—and possibly using solar power
to heat the water to get the hydrogen that way.
Wasn’t that one of your—you had some ideas about that, I thought, a long time ago, no?
Well, you can in fact use solar to heat—to get super-heated conductivity.
And that would split water into hydrogen. It would not have an environmental impact.
It’s also very expensive to do. The kind of—
You don’t want to get Bob started on the hydrogen economy.
Yeah, precisely. Because that’s one of his big causes.
Precisely. Different discussion.
And when we start talking about this, the fuel cells that have come out of the space
program are in fact one of the solutions to the pollution problem going forward.
So. Yeah, I’m just trying to look forward on this
because I want to help you guys out, tell you what people might be talking to you about.
Okay, so I want to bring this to a close in just a moment, and we’ll shortly be taking
questions from the audience. I just want to get some summative remarks
here. So, Elliot, like I said I’ve been to these
conferences, people are very upbeat and I’m concerned that people are upbeat on a mismatched
time scale with reality. I’ve got to applaud the energy, but as an
academic I ask questions about it and I have my concerns.
Do you think there’s a mismatch there? No, I really don’t, Neil.
I mean, everybody in our business is very passionate about it.
If you go back to what got you into this business, what got you into the space business, it’s
all inspiration, it’s wanting to do great things.
And so, I think it’s natural that the people that get into this business are very passionate
about it. They tend to be very upbeat about things.
But they’re not Pollyannaish. They understand the risks, they understand
the responsibilities and they understand the current state of play in the world.
So, I wouldn’t say that we’re— Delusional.
Delusional. The other thing that you need to recognize
is we’re talking about creating emerging space economies and new space products and so forth.
People need to get a grip on the fact that the majority of space activity in this world
today is done by commercial companies. Seventy-seven percent of the worldwide revenue
in space is generated by commercial companies that are operating satellites, building ground
equipment, doing all the space business. This includes communications, obviously.
Communications, telecommunications, navigation, positioning, timing.
Most of what goes on in space is already commercial, and what we’re looking at here is some of
the harder stuff that’s a little harder to get to, but I think we’re going to get to
it. That’s an important fact because most people
I think, if you ask them, would think that NASA is the major investment in space in the
world. Yeah, I think public opinion, if you just
go out and ask people on the street, you would get a picture that would show you a Space
Shuttle at about 60 percent and then somewhere down here there would be some military and
then somewhere down here there would be some satellite stuff.
And the picture is actually the reverse. There’s 300—global revenues in the industry
in 2012 were $304 billion. The NASA budget at that time was $17 billion,
so you’re talking down in the single-digit percentage.
And NASA is not huge in the whole thing. They’re hugely important because they build
technologies and take risks that the rest don’t, and we need to have NASA doing that,
but in terms of the global scale of the industry, it’s already mostly commercial.
Okay. Tell me again, you gave me two dates.
You think we’ll be low Earth orbit when? In five years, ten years?
Low Earth orbit on a budget? No, no, sorry.
The 100 kilometers out. The 100 kilometers.
In the next three to five years. Three to five years.
And orbit? Orbit on a budget?
Ten. Ten years.
And when will the average person to be able to do this?
That’s probably a little longer out. A little longer out?
A little longer out, yeah. A little longer out.
For you, what’s your most lucrative operation right now?
Our orbital space flight, so our $52 million seats up to the International Space Station.
And the Russians will do that. If I remember correctly, the Americans wouldn’t
let you do that. That’s correct.
To sell a seat on the Shuttle. That’s correct.
Bob, why not? I’m not blaming you, but you did write the
legislation. Well, it was quite a discussion with the NASA
administrator back at the time that that decision was made, and after the Shuttle accidents,
after Challenger and after Columbia, there wasn’t much enthusiasm about—
Selling seats. Including other than NASA people on the Shuttle.
NASA has changed its opinion since then. Now that they don’t have a Space Shuttle,
they change their opinion. Okay.
Now that they don’t have a Space Shuttle. And in order to get one, they recognize that
they may have to consider flying private citizens alongside professional astronauts in order
to make it affordable. Now that they don’t have a Space Shuttle.
Okay. That’s correct.
Mike? You know, I tire of skepticism.
I have not once but twice been with a company that’s taken a Russian nuclear missile, converted
it for peaceful purposes, put on an expandable habitat and had it work both times.
Don’t tell me what’s not possible. This would have been a Heinlein novel 20 years
ago. Or an Asimov.
Asimov novel, yes, there you go. I’ve always preferred Asimov to Heinlein,
despite the business. We’re doing some amazing things in commercial
space. There has never been a more exciting time
to be in this industry. To me, the exciting part isn’t the government;
it’s what comes after the government exploration. It’s the settlement, it’s the development.
And that’s what’s happening now. We’ll be launching next year to the ISS, and
keep an eye on us right after that. My skepticism is not that you can’t do it.
It’s that the business model seems a little far reaching, to me.
The business model that would sustain it. So, that’s why.
I want you to make a buck. I’m just—I don’t—
I think if you look at SpaceX, they have a larger launch manifest than any company right
now and have tapped into those dollars that we’re talking about with Telecon, which dwarfs
what NASA spends. We need to take what happened with Telecon
and make that happen with human space flight. I gotcha.
That’s a fair point. That’s a lot of money.
That’s where the rub—that’s where the space ship hits the vacuum of space.
Rubber hits the road. We need something that’s not a car analogy
here. So, Bob, are you proud of your legislation
back then? Yeah.
I think that it— You should, I think.
It helped get the ball rolling and so on. But we need to understand the potential that’s
there. And you wonder where the investors are?
Well, for example, one of the things we’ve learned on the Space Station is the fact that
if you take the rice gene and take it to the laboratory, it throws up all of its defenses
because it’s in a weightless environment that it has never seen before.
That means that you could figure out those defenses, and when you can do that, it is
possible that you may be able to create a rice gene that would grow in brackish water.
And that would at least triple the amount of rice that could be grown in the world.
All of a sudden, there’s an investor potential there of amazing potential.
Gotcha. So, what you’re saying is it’s a frontier;
who are we at this moment to say what is or is not possible with it?
Because every previous frontier that’s been breached has transformed civilization.
You have the longest view of all of us here. Where’s your optimism?
He said he hates pessimists. What did you say, what—?
Yeah. Yeah, I’ve been in Washington 48 years.
It does bad things for optimism. And yet, I remain optimistic.
Yes. So, you’re an extraordinary man.
A couple of points, to conclude. One is we haven’t talked much about government,
but government has to be involved in this. Government has to go explore and find out
what’s out there so that the settlers can follow, the entrepreneurs can follow.
The costs and the risks are too high and the likely initial returns in terms of profit
too low for this to be other than a government undertaking, going out and pushing the frontier
and having the private sector follow. So, all this discussion we’ve had about selling
commercial space, let’s not forget that there’s an important, I would essential, role for
government. Let me comment, just sort of my reflections
on this conversation. I think anytime you want a movement—in this
case, it would be dare I say a cultural movement because we’d be shifting our frontiers from
long ago where there were Earth frontiers, land frontiers, ocean frontiers, to now space—for
it to really be an embraced activity, it would have to be sort of inclusive in a way that
I don’t know that I’ve seen. We’ve got five guys up here.
Elliot, how inclusive would you say is the space industry?
Because I think that might be where you’d have to assure yourself if you want a future,
it’s got to really involve everybody. So, what do you see in your memberships, in
the boards and all the rest of this? I think you’re seeing a real shift from what
used to be a very pale grey workforce to a much more diverse and representative workforce.
Pale grey? That’s code for white men over 50?
Thick-necked white guys. Yeah, okay.
You see— Thick-necked?
Where did that come from? Well, that’s just the saying.
Okay. But if you look at some of the most successful
companies, we’ve been talking about SpaceX. SpaceX—by the way, president and CEO, a
woman. If you look at United Space Alliance, which
was the company that ran the Space Shuttle program—in case you all didn’t know, that
had been subcontracted to a private company—Ginger Barnes, a woman, running that.
And you really see— That doesn’t exist anymore because we don’t
launch anything. Where I’m really seeing the difference, though,
is in what we call the new generation, the under-35 professionals in our business, and
especially internationally the Europeans and the Asians.
Many, many more women coming up through the ranks.
Many, many more minorities coming up through the ranks.
And so, you see a tremendous— In the next generation?
Well, in the current—what I would call the current generation.
Where you are generationally. Thirty years old or so, you’re early career
but you’re not late—you’re not just arriving on the scene.
So, I see much more diversity being important, being valued.
And frankly, there is such a screaming cry for talent that really if you were a Martian
and came in with one eye and an antenna, if you had your science, technology, engineering,
and mathematics down, somebody would hire you because we are doing such a poor job in
this country— They would still need a Green Card, I’m sure.
We are doing such— Because they’re Martians and they’re green,
yeah. We’re doing such a poor job in this country.
We don’t—every town doesn’t have a beautiful facility like this to inspire the next generation.
And so, there is a real crying need for more talent in the workforce.
I don’t see diversity as being much of an issue anymore.
For what’s coming up. Yeah, quick one?
I will say when you walk into a room at an aerospace meeting, you can always tell who
the new space companies are because they’re the youngest in the room, they’re the ones
with the women, they’re the ones with the racial diversity.
And that’s what this industry needs because homogeneity among the people leads to a dearth
of ideas. We need more diverse people, more diverse
concepts, and that’s how [we’ll move forward]. So, it’s more than just that you need it;
you actually see it in the next generation? Absolutely.
Okay. Excellent to hear.
Gentlemen, thank you for this. Thank you, all.
We have limited time for some questions. There’s a microphone on each aisle.
We’ll go for, like, ten minutes if you want to sort of budget your time this evening.
Sir, right here on the left. Hi.
First of all, thank you so much for putting on this program.
I’ve been coming for ten years. It’s been a huge influence on me.
I really love it. I come every year.
And you came when you were five, when you began?
Yes. Around then, yeah.
So, I wanted to ask something, and I think you guys touched on it a little bit towards
the end, is Carl Sagan has a famous quote, that when we first landed on the moon, we
didn’t do it so much for the sake of discovery or for human exploration but because we wanted
to beat the Russians. And then now I hear we’re going to space,
we can land on the moon, but if we own property there it’s not technically owned by us because
it’s through our state. And the alternative to that is going to an
asteroid where the premise there is under economic means, so you’re doing it for a private
corporation. So, I assume you have a question?
Right. Yes, okay.
So, my question is is there a need for—again, your example of the Monopoly game, is there
a need for another paradigm shift? One in which scientific discovery is not done
with an impetus provided by politics or economics but in which politics and economics are the
tools through which scientific discovery is made?
Oh. Why don’t you take that?
Well, I think clearly politics and economics are going to play a role.
I absolutely agree with what John said a few minutes ago.
Government has to be a part of this. Government has to push the frontier because
of the expense involved in developing the technologies and pushing out the frontier.
But the fact is that there is a place for economics to back up that, is to backfill.
After the government’s gone out a ways and so on, the investors can come in and backfill,
use the technology that’s been developed and create a lot of other synergisms in the space
business. And so, it seems to me that that’s the place
where we have to go in the future. Thank you.
Over here. Is this the Jerry Ostriker?
Hi, Neil. Hi.
Jerry, you won the Presidential Medal of Science? Yes.
Yeah. Under which President was that?
Clinton. Under Clinton.
Congratulations on that. Just putting pressure—now you’ve got to
ask a really good question because I just said that.
There’s one word—this has been fascinating, but there’s one word that I didn’t hear mentioned
by anyone, and that’s “China.” And here’s my question.
The Chinese program is expanding rapidly. Is there any chance that in 25 years we’ll
see space dominated by China, either commercial or government?
Elliot? I guess there’s always a chance.
I would say that my experience with the Chinese would not suggest that that’s a great threat.
You know, unless we totally fall asleep at the wheel.
I mean, Neil and I have had this conversation forever.
If you want to see the United States land somebody on Mars tomorrow, just put out a
press conference now saying that China’s doing it, and then we’ll finally get excited.
A better idea: you get China—I wanted to sneak over to the head of China and tell him
to leak a memo— Just leak a memo that they’re going to Mars.
That says they want to put military bases on Mars.
We’d be on Mars in ten months [inaudible]. We would be there.
We would be there. One month to fund, design, build the craft,
and nine months to get there. But I would—
Neil, now you know my plan. He’s our operative.
Yeah. Well, the Chinese have a very capable space
program, and I think we ignore them at great political and scientific risk.
I strongly believe that engagement is much more productive than estrangement and that
our current posture towards them with regard to working together in space needs to change.
They have some good work that they’re doing. They have great capability that they bring
to bear. We really need to address them with a little
bit of respect and a little bit of curiosity about how we can work together so that we’re
not necessarily always just butting heads and competing.
Can I give a succinct answer to that question? The Chinese can launch their people to space
and we can’t. That speaks volumes.
I would also say that even though we might remember ourselves as pioneers in this golden
era of space exploration, practically every American achievement was a reaction to something
the Russians either did or said they were going to do.
Yes. So that we as a nation have been reactive
in space more than we have been proactive, and that’s—we don’t remember it that way,
but that’s in fact if you look at the tracking how it actually came to pass.
Thank you, Jerry. Yes, right here?
Hi. I believe this question would be more Mr.
Shelley. So, when somebody comes to you and they have
the money and they say, I want to go to space, what is then—they pay you, then what’s the
screening process? Do they have to go through training?
Do they have to be in a certain level of health? Is there anybody who’s ever rejected?
Yeah, there are some health requirements, but it’s not-quite-right stuff.
We’re not— It’s adequate stuff.
Yeah, okay. You can be adequate stuff and they’ll take
you, yes. Our clients have been in their—ranging from
their 20s all the way up into their late 50s and early 60s, with a range of health problems
which are probably similar to the majority of the people represented here in this room.
It’s a significant health ailment, I guess, that would prevent you really from flying
into space. It’s a lot easier than you’d expect.
In other words, $52 million buys his ignorance of your health, yes.
But they do train as well. Sorry?
They do train. And they do train, yes.
There is quite an extensive training program that our clients go through to familiarize
with the spacecraft and to understand what life is like in space, etc.
So, it is quite an enjoyable, actually, and very rewarding preparation for the space flight.
Thank you. Right here, sir.
Okay, a question for John. And by the way, I’m the alluded-to federal
aviation official who used to be the former astronaut, so I don’t [inaudible].
Welcome. You flew on Endeavor?
I flew on Discovery and Endeavor. My last mission was landing Endeavor at night.
Yeah. And if you’re tracking it, Endeavor is now
on display in California, in Los Angeles, at the—
Right. California Science Center.
California Science Center. So, you’re from the FAA.
Which branch? From the Office of Commercial Space Transportation.
So, the FAA is now thinking about space? Well, we have been since 1980—well, the
office has been around since 1984, but the FAA picked it up in the mid ’90s.
Okay, if they’re going to think about space, maybe they should first find the Boeing 777
plane before they can—I’m just wondering. That’s a big FAA.
I’m little FAA. [inaudible].
That’s big FAA. He’s little FAA.
Okay. Do you have a question or a comment?
That’s right. A question for John, I think.
And that is, when I was a little guy—as a matter of fact, probably like a lot of folks
here—I was inspired by the actions of the Apollo astronauts and the Gemini astronauts.
They were part of living and growing up, and they were an inspiration to me that drove
me to where I ended up going. So, we don’t have those guys now.
We’re going a different route. So, John, since you’re so well versed in the
history of that playing, how do you see commercial space serving as that inspiration for young
people? Yeah, if we don’t have heroes, who’s going
to want to do this? Well, I don’t think commercial space is going
to serve as inspiration. That’s where the government comes in, is doing
new things. I mean, your experience as a Shuttle astronaut,
unless you showed up in your blue suit, nobody knew who you were.
We were hoisting our own— The blue flight suit?
Flight suit. The astronaut outfit.
Not just a blue suit from Barney’s. No.
Right, okay. I mean, the Shuttle was supposed to routinize
space, and it did, and it got boring. We lost the heroic element most of the time.
So, I think we have to go places. As you said, not just in circles but back
to the moon, asteroids, Mars. Then you can get some inspiration.
Rich people taking joyrides is not inspirational. I beg to differ, actually.
Wait, wait. Wait, wait.
You differ from John, so you think rich people taking joyrides will inspire us all?
Absolutely. I think the—
Okay, I’ve got to listen for this. You’re going to listen carefully, right?
I get calls— I’ve got to get closer.
Go. We get calls and emails on a daily basis from
people, saying I’m so inspired by what it is you’re doing, opening up space, I never
thought it was going to be possible for me to be able to go to space because I know I
wouldn’t qualify. I’m not a super human, I’m not an astronaut,
I won’t be selected from the cream of the cream, but I’m a regular person.
I know that if I work hard enough, I can achieve that dream as well.
And put it in your savings account so it makes 0.1 percent interest.
Put it in your savings, absolutely. And then you’ll eventually have $52 million.
Just while we’re at it, I’d like to acknowledge at least one other astronaut in our midst.
Mike Massimino, please stand up. Mike Massimino.
He’s a Shuttle astronaut. Mike has done awesome things.
There is one thing he and I have in common: we both had cameo appearances on The Big Bang
Theory. So, Mike, thanks for coming tonight.
We love you because you repaired the Hubble Space Telescope for its last time, so thank
you. Yes, sir?
Thank you all very much. I have a question actually for Dr. Tyson.
Mr. Gold I believe said he doesn’t like skepticism. I wonder—
I live by it. I would think so.
But there were just a couple of points I’d make quickly.
One is for me and I think a lot of my colleagues looking at the world, the amount of resources
controlled by a very, very small number of people—the mining companies, etc.—is very
troubling already. The idea that the resources of the moon and
the asteroids and everything will be controlled by who knows what super wealthy people is
not necessarily so comforting. The other thing, if I may, the idea that—but
I was also troubled— I just have to say something.
That’s evidence that we have Democrats in the audience.
They applauded at that. Yeah, I understand.
Yeah. I didn’t tell anyone you were a Republican.
I didn’t say that. Yeah, okay.
That was going to be our secret, but I’m just trying—
But I did have one other thing— Commercial space [TALKOVER]
The space advocacy comes from us, so. Right.
Exactly. I did have one other point.
When the panel, very distinguished panel, said, well, we could never let things be dangerous,
it’s not in our economic interest, I can only imagine the panel on the nuclear power as
the company said but we could never be dangerous, that would be against our interest in Fukushima.
And even we have a panelist saying, well, we’ll pollute a lot at first but later it
will straighten itself out. What are your feelings on that?
Them I know. Yours.
Yeah. Thanks for asking.
I do have just a brief reaction to that. There are times when there’s a new discovery,
be it scientific or industrial or engineering, and we’re all excited about it.
Just a recent article about a woman who died at age 107, who painted the radium dials back
when radium was discovered to glow in the dark.
Most of the people in that factory died of cancer before they reached their 40th birthday.
She survived it because she actually left very early.
My issue here is there will presumably always be the unknown unknowns that you can’t expect
to prevent until you then learn they’re dangerous. My issue is if you know in advance it’s dangerous
and still do it, that is an excuse for not being creative to find a solution to get around
that problem. And so, I would be—I would want to compel
the entrepreneurs to avoid what we already know in advance is either bad for our health
or our longevity and be creative even in that regime, to take us into the future.
That would be my appeal. We have a question from Twitter.
Woodrow asks, how useful or needed is space-based experimentation?
And so, in other words, can you expand on what you said about rice seeds?
How—let me phrase that in another way. There’s a cost to do that experiment on rice.
Yes, it could have great returns. You don’t know in advance, but there’s a cost.
If you ask most scientists, if you said to them for a billion dollars you can do these
experiments in zero G, or you can spend these billion dollars on Earth, 100 percent of them
will say I’ll build 100 labs here and do other things in 1G.
So, take us— Well, I think that the science community,
though, needs to recognize in that instance that you are in a totally unique environment
when you move into space, when you move into the vacuum of space, when you move into the
weightlessness of space. That gives you opportunities that you can’t
create on Earth, even if you build a thousand new labs here.
And so, the fact is that it is expensive, but if in fact you can create products that
maybe help solve the world’s hunger problem, is that an investment worth making?
Yeah, I think it’s worth making. Okay.
Yes, next question here. My dream is to go to Mars, and I was wondering
how much money will it take to get there? Wow.
How old are you? I’m ten.
You’re ten. Cool.
You might make it. Is it past your bedtime?
It’s past my bedtime. Is this past your bedtime?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, me, too.
She wants to know—by the way, you’re probably the right age—if we were to send astronauts
to Mars, you’d be the right age at the time that happened to send you.
So, John, $150 billion to go to Mars. What’s it going to cost—I mean, to go to
the moon. What’s it going to cost to send this ten-year-old
girl? It’s going to cost all of us, not her.
Okay. To start out with.
The money you need is to get a good education and hopefully your grades will be good enough
that somebody else will pay you. Get somebody else to pay and you don’t have
to worry about the cost. The first people to go to Mars, my bet—and
you’ve got Inspiration Mars and Mars 1 and all these private ventures, but I think they’re
going to be government astronauts selected from people like you.
So, be good at what you’re doing, be ready. So that when the call comes—
You’re ready. You’re ready.
Do you like science and math now? Yes, very much.
Yeah. And what’s your name?
Elizabeth [Shubes]. Okay, Elizabeth, we’ll see you on Mars.
Okay. So, Alexis [Goncalvez] asks, will we get to
Mars in the next 50 years with humans? Probably.
Fifty years? Yeah, I would think we—we have some technologies
that we have to develop if you’re going to do it in the appropriate way, but I think
that a 50-year timeframe is certainly possible. Yes, we already promised Elizabeth.
Yes. She’ll be 60, if not, yes?
Optimist here. Okay, we’re good.
Right here, sir. Oh, sorry, I was—next.
Okay, this is for the entire panel. Why was the Space Shuttle program cancelled?
We had an operational system and we got rid of it before there was an operational replacement
for it. Yeah, Bob?
Well, the fact is that there had been a number of commissions that looked at the Space Shuttle,
including after the Columbia accident, who said that it was not safe to continue to fly
it in its present configuration. That’s not what we said.
I was on the Columbia board. Okay.
Our recommendations were— Wait, wait, just—the Columbia Accident Investigation
Board—CAIB, it was called—was established to evaluate what was the cause and how to
prevent it in the future. John Logsdon was on that board.
True. And our key set of recommendations or what
it would take to return to flight—so the going-in assumption is we were going to return
to flight. Both Challenger and Columbia were management
failures, not equipment failures. So, a laser-like focus on operating the system
safely is what was needed. Now, the answer to your question is that space
has been less than 1 percent of the budget since 1973, and Mr. Bush, 43, had no intention
of increasing the NASA budget to both operate the Shuttle and do new things.
And he was convinced after Columbia he should do new things—back to the moon, men on Mars—and
in that process there was not enough money to continue the Shuttle operation.
It was a stupid decision. Oh, okay.
Let me add to that, though. The more dangerous question to ask is why
wasn’t there a replacement ready at the end? That’s right.
What were we doing for that 20 years? Yeah, we should have been doing the replacement.
That’s exactly what the failure of policy was here.
Now we have a gap that might not ever end. And the answer to that question I’ll only
have at a bar. I’ll talk to you afterwards.
Time for just a couple more questions. Yes?
I don’t know that we’ll get to—I know we won’t get to the whole line.
Maybe one more on each side. Yes, sir?
All right, we’ve been talking about the government versus private spending on this.
NASA’s budget last year was, like, $20 million. You said it was $100—
Billion. Billion, sorry.
And you said it was $160 billion for Apollo. Last year’s military budget was, like, $700
billion. Do you think we’re spending money in the right
way to make progress? We were talking about government being the
frontier people. It seems like we’re not really investing in
the frontier anymore. Oh.
John, or who’s going to—? Yeah, well, I don’t think this country has
been serious about having a good space program for a number of years because it has underfunded
and created over-expectations of what we want to do.
The space program, NASA’s program—$17.6 billion I think is this year’s request—really
should, to do what we want to do and do it well, be up in the mid 20s.
Not anything near like DoD— It should be $50 billion, what do you mean?
Well, Neil has been campaigning to double it.
At least. Twelve people agree with the doubling of the
budget, yes. But the basic—we’re not spending enough
money to have a good space program. Or good science.
The future of the world is not going to be determined by who has the most bullets.
It’s going to be decided in the boardrooms with economics and science and STEM.
We should be funding education, we should be funding NSF, because that’s where the future
of the world lies. Yes?
Good evening. My name is [Gliza Kaysell], and I’m an undergraduate
student of astrophysics at Barnet College, and my question to you guys is beyond—as
we see the decrease in funding from NASA and governmental funds for the exploration of
outer space, how do you feel that the privatization and the commercialization of space exploration
and colonization of space will affect the more globalization economy of the earth?
And in terms of what do you feel like the economic benefits of exploring different planets,
different—how will a solar systemic economy develop if we are able to colonize different
planets or further that? Yeah, Elliot, why don’t you take that?
Okay. So, we know we’ve got communication satellites.
That is a huge industry. The premise is if we’re going to explore space,
there will be some economic benefit to that back here on Earth.
Do your people talk about this? Well, we do because if you think about it,
nobody loads up a cargo load of million-dollar bills and launches them into space.
If you’re spending on space, you’re spending it on Earth, you’re spending it on the people
and the processes to make space things happen. So, money just doesn’t get launched into space.
Although that’s a common conception. It’s a common conception.
You just launch dollars into space. But I think the answer to your question from
my view—this also goes back to the last question we had—and that is that there needs
to be proper recognition and proper balance between what the private sector does and does
well and what government should do well. And I think that a big victim of our political
dysfunction over the last decade has been our space program because we can’t agree on
what to do and do well in the government, and that needs to change.
We need to get back to those days when we had bipartisan coalitions who understood that
this was important. That having been said, we need to understand
where the value is and where the value is created.
Government no longer goes out with an RFP, Request for Proposal, to buy a computer.
They go down to the— An abbreviation.
They go down to the Best Buy and they buy a computer.
We’re getting productized like that throughout the space value chain.
And so, government ought to be looking at what can it do with its investment to best
push forward the frontiers of exploration, and how in doing that can they best bring
the resources and the intelligence and the expertise and the energy of private industry
to make it all happen. And when we say privatization, let’s remember
the Lunar Excursion Module—I won’t say LEM—was built by a company, was built by [inaudible].
That would be an acronym. Yeah.
Okay. It was built by Grumman right here on Long
Island. Actually, I want to end with this last Twitter
question. This is—I’m directing it to you.
[Adam S. Reilly] asks, what kind of credentials would an asteroid mining company look for
in hiring a space miner? Would it be Bruce Willis?
[inaudible]. Only if you’re blowing it up, not mining it.
Only if you’re blowing it up, not mining it. I like that answer.
I think what we’re looking is very much what we’re looking for the astronaut core of today:
science, engineering. What we told the young girl, you have to get
that education. That is where America’s future is going to
be won or lost, and the people who go out to that asteroid and explore the frontier
will be the ones who study and dedicate themselves to STEM education.
Thank you, panel. Thank you all for coming.
John Logsdon’s most recent book is available for sale out in the lobby.
He signed each copy. We will not be having our receiving line as
usual. We’re going to have a press roundtable back
up in my department because we have many members of the press here this evening.
So, thank you all for coming. We’ll see you in a year, and as always, keep
looking up. Thank you.