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Space: Dispatches from the Garden of the Gods, Final

Published on:
May 15th 2016

State of Space 2016: Conclusion.

And then we were at the final panel, members of the NASA establishment seated to the left, new players, SpaceX and Virgin, to the right of the moderator on the big stage. A few satellite and rocket startups were squeezed in for good measure and pending their alliance.

It started out friendly, talking about exciting technology such as carbon composite materials allowing a new rocket tank to be built every week, and electric turbopumps 3d printed in 24 hours.

But soon the increasingly heated debate between left and right turned to who has the better rocket. Tory Bruno, CEO for ULA (Lockheed and Boeing) fired again and again 107 perfect ULA launches across the stage at SpaceX COO Gwynne Shotwell, who (with a few recent crashes), citing early days of aviation, pushed back that without failure there is no progress.

Virgin Galactic, mostly referred to only as “Galactic” by its CEO, talked about delivering a fleet of satellites for OneWeb (where Richard Branson is partner).

Strangely Mars wasn’t mentioned, nor the usual popular topic, Karman tourist rides. The previous day Jeff Bezos had delivered a self-confident talk about his intent to have passengers up in low orbit already 2018. Coupled with Blue Origin's recent successful launches and landings, it may have dampened enthusiasm with this panel.

After the debate people walked across the podium to shake hands. Preparing to leave I glanced at the stage one last time. The lights had faded and over in the corner, George Whitesides of Virgin Galactic was standing alone.

The Colorado Springs World Arena Ice Hall

We closed our computers and stepped out into the fresh air. A short drive took us to the World Arena Ice Hall, training facility for future Olympic Champions. Watching the skaters’ aggressive gaze it hit me the recent duel between Big NASA and mini NASA was nothing compared to the cutthroat competition during couples practice in this rink.

In the end, no power comes close to the will of one woman or man.

Our world wasn’t discovered by industrialists dispatching personnel but by self-propelled explorers finding the means and going themselves.

None of the participants at this year’s Space symposium showed the least incline for anything close to such self-sufficiency and resolve.

Already back in his day, more than 50 years ago, Wernher von Braun - the man who helped us set foot on the Moon - said we had the technology to go to Mars. So why haven’t we?

Even the most visionary people and companies ultimately invest in practical problems, things concerning themselves. Batteries, because they hate when their mobiles die, healthcare, because even with all their money they are growing old.

Planets like Mars are hijacked by scientists who want to be part of great discoveries without risking their necks. Consequently space exploration funds go to telescopes and other instruments making us great spectators in basecamp but hardly mountaineers.

The industry is about construction, jobs and lucrative contracts. Rockets are built, scrapped and rebuilt again as chips in a circular game for the same old thrones.

There is nothing left for explorers and worse, explorers themselves no longer believe there is anything left for them.

The best out there are guiding wealthy tourists who crave acclaim on top of privilege. The real heroes but tools for their affluent clients and the media they control.

History is rewritten, democracy suffers, and the true spirit of adventure flames out.

“Space is hard” our critics insist. Where did I hear that before? On Everest I recall, where large commercial expeditions love to boast it takes massive collaboration between them and at least 100 sherpa to build the mountain.

Except we did it on 5 people.

The 32nd Space Symposium vas exhilarating, uplifting and powerful. Technology races forward but as for humans, I didn't get the impression we are going anywhere in flesh soon.

To all the talks of rockets, engines and satellites, we didn’t hear anyone even mention space suits.

Well, we're waiting no more.

Back in the beautiful Sierra mountains, Tom and I went for a few ski tracks in fresh corn snow. And returned to building our Norse vessel to Mars.

Stay tuned in Pythom labs.

Tina Sjogren
Tina Sjogren
CEO & Founder
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At the final panel, members of the NASA establishment were seated to the left, new players, SpaceX and Virgin, to the right of the moderator on the big stage. A few satellite and rocket startups were squeezed in for good measure and pending their alliance.