Space Cowboys -- The Builders & The Dreamers


Then the Cold War ended, and Congress started to say, "If space exploration is just about science, then just send robots." And I would agree - if it were just about science. But I don't believe that's what it's all about.

Rick Tumlinson, Dreamer Restored - Space exploration is about something that's steady and deep - and it's about human exploration. It's about a generation of people who believed in Apollo and The Dream, Star Wars and Star Trek. A generation who became educated and went on to found the dot.com industry and the telecommunications industry. I was one of those people who believed, which is why I helped found the X-Prize - a $10 million prize for the first privately built manned vehicle to reach the edge of space and return.

Burt Rutan won the prize in 2004, financed by Paul Allen. Paul is one of the original geeks. Paul was also somebody who was inspired by Star Trek. There are others, as well. Elan Musk founded PayPal and then sold it to eBay. The dream of his new company, SpaceX, is to get to Mars. And he may very well beat NASA!

Rick Tumlinson, Taxonomist - There are three categories of thinkers related to space exploration.

There the Werner Von Braun-ians: "We will build the largest rocket, and we are spending your tax dollars wisely."

There are the Carl Sagen-ites: "Look at space, but don't touch it" They're the voyeur type. JPL [Jet Propulsion Lab at Cal Tech] goes into that category and I have no issue with that, because I love space. We've helped to fund some of their work, and we've also said it was important to save the Hubble Telescope. In fact, I know some astronauts who would put their lives at risk, to save the Hubble.

Then there are the Gerard O'Neill-ites: "Space is the High Frontier." [O'Neill was a professor of physics at Princeton, and wrote The High Frontier: Human Colonies in Space.] Burt Rutan and Elan Musk are in that category.

There's also a company called XCOR here in California, which is designing a sub-orbital vehicle that can pop out a satellite and deposit it into orbit. They are also out-of-the-box thinkers, and know that every problem and every solution is different.

Then there's Richard Branson from Virgin Airlines. He's partnering with Burt Rutan [The Spaceship Company is co-owned by Branson's Virgin Group and Scaled Composites] and is now talking about Space Tourism. I don't really like that term - if you climb Mount Everest, you're not a tourist. However, I do know people who want to go up, and then want to jump out and dive back to Earth. That will probably be happening within 2 years.

But all of these guys are working on the model of pay for delivery. The Government must be able to understand this. After all, they use FedEx, where you pay for something and then it's delivered. But instead, the Government signs contracts with Lockheed Martin and pays them millions of dollars up front, whether or not we go to the moon.

Rick Tumlinson, Insider - I was at the White House [in 2004], sitting right in front of George Bush when he said we're going to go back to the moon. I'm a Texan, and I was sitting very close to him. George Bush is a Texan, and he meant what he said. But the distance from his mouth to NASA is a distance as far as from here to the moon. NASA just wants to keep paying more money to Lockheed and Boeing, but it will collapse.

The play of Government is a power play, but NASA will go away. You won't need them anymore. The pay-for-delivery companies will build the infrastructure to go the Moon, and to Mars, and beyond. NASA may be the Lewis and Clark, but the O'Neill-ites will be the ones who will live out there and settle in those locations.

Rick Tumlinson, Visionary - The Earth is just on the edge of a bubble, and we need to expand out. We need Lewis and Clark to push out from the edge, and then we need to create an infrastructure so the shopkeepers can follow.

In the Old World, they knew how to move up and down the coasts, to hire people and move goods. Now we are creating companies that will take care of this beyond the bubble. We will create settlements, permanence, experience that location, and then move on again, beyond ourselves to create more societies at the edge. Someday flowers will grow on the moon - trees will grow on the moon. Children will live there, or on Saturn. And they'll look back at the Earth and be proud of the place that they came from.

If God created us to send ourselves out into space, he would create a moon to call us. There is a moon, and it calls to us to create opportunities. It's an exciting time! You and your children can make the most of it. Step up and make it happen. It's a great time to be alive!

The Rick Tumlinson Fan Club & Others …

After Rick Tumlinson finished his lengthy address, an attendee made his way to the microphone on the floor of the ballroom. He was visibly enthused:

"Mr. Tumlinson, I salute you! And, we get it! There are a thousand scientists and engineers here, and they're all pushing the envelope and pushing electrons! Thank you for sharing The Dream with us!"

There was a rousing round of affirming applause from the huge audience. The commendation was so thorough, I thought maybe I had under-estimated the quality of Mr. Tumlinson's address. Perhaps the natural skepticism of a journalist had ill served me in this particular instance. Maybe I need to start believing.

The event wrapped up and I made my way out to the lobby of the Convention Center along with everyone else, to sit and enjoy some of Mentor Graphics' coffee while waiting for the next session to begin (a nuts-and-bolts discussion of DFT scan chains and a refreshing re-anchoring back into the world of gated clocks and PLLs).

As I waited in line at the coffee station, I thought about the audience; it was weighted heavily, I suspected, with folks from mil-aero. How did they feel about Tumlinson's scathing criticisms of their industry? I also thought about terra-forming - the process of reshaping other worlds to create habitats suitable for human life forms. Were Mil-Aero life forms the ones who would choose to go to these new worlds? Or would these new worlds be populated instead by Space Cowboy life forms? And would they be drinking lattes, or a straight-up cup of joe? With those questions unresolved, I took my coffee and found a seat.

As I sat looking at my notes, a group of engineers sat down nearby at the same large round table where I was parked. They had also been in the 8-to-9 AM keynote and were discussing Tumlinson's address. I kept my eyes on my notebook, but boldly jotted down their comments:

"What did you think of the talk?"

"Well, it was kind of like last year [Burt Rutan]. Same theme, two years in a row - quit being safe and get government out of it. What did you think?"

"Yeah, well I liked last year's better. This guy was a little fuzzy - more of a dreamer than a builder."

I picked up my cup of coffee and moved to a different table. I tended to agree with their sentiments, but I didn't want them to think I had been eavesdropping.

[Editor's Note: The photos in this article come from www.ricktumlinson.com (Rick Tumlinson), Wikipedia (Burt Rutan, SpaceShipOne, Starship Enterprise, and the cup of coffee), www.hubblesite.org (The God's Eye Nebula), and www.xcor.com (XCOR vehicle).]

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