Touching the Future: Space Angels Expedition 17

November 7, 2017
Sarah Cruddas
November 7, 2017
Sarah Cruddas

To date fewer than 600 humans have been to space. Just 600 on a planet of more than 7 billion. Space exploration for the likes of most of us feels just as far away now, as it did back in the 1960s. In fact, you could even argue it seems further away, with the optimism galvanised during the original Space Race it felt almost certain that we would be spending our holidays in space, perhaps even the Moon and Mars by the end of the 20th century. According to Apollo 11 Moonwalker Buzz Aldrin, ‘if we had carried on with the same momentum as Apollo we would have been on Mars by the 1980s or 1990s at the very latest.’ Back then, a few rather ambitious aerospace companies had even printed tickets for would-be tourists.

Instead, our reality is one where the average person on the street is more likely to be able to name the entire Kardashian/Jenner clan than even a few of the heroic Moonwalkers. However, I am optimistic for our space future and not just because I work in the industry. In the words of Gene Cernan, still the last person to have even set foot on the Moon, “We will go back to the Moon, it is our destiny.”

Gene passed away in January of this year. It was my privilege to work with him on the film Last Man On The Moon, executive produced by (among others) Space Angels member Keith Haviland. Captain Cernan was the epitome of an American Hero and one of the most inspiring people I have ever met. But he made no secret of the fact that he did not want to maintain the title of the ‘Last Man on the Moon’. One of his many mantras was that ‘perhaps we just got the timing wrong’. I, like many others, agree with this and believe that now is truly the time for space. The best comparison for me is that Apollo can be thought of as the Columbus ‘moment’ and we are now entering into the ‘Mayflower moment’ with this new private Space Race. Change is happening thanks to private industry, including many of Space Angels’ portfolio companies, and change is happening fast.

Image credit: Space Angels

This year’s Space Angels Expedition in Houston was based around that very theme, honoring the past and fueling the future. As part of the Expedition, I found myself standing in Historic Mission Control—an area off limits to most, to which Space Angels was granted unique access—a stark reminder that the Moon Landings are no longer a recent event. For the most part they are now consigned to the history books. The historic site is currently in the process of being restored thanks in part to the city of Webster and generous donations from the public, including Space Angels members. The worn carpets and mint green desks are a reminder of just what humanity can achieve. Right of the main screen is an American flag, flown to the Moon as part of Apollo 17. On another, the mirror from the Apollo 13 Lunar Lander Aquarius, framed in Mission Control to reflect the image of the people who got the crew back. Symbolic reminders of where we have been.

No matter what happens next in our space future we, as a species, will forever be standing on the shoulders of giants—those heroes who helped humanity take that first leap into the unknown. It is my long held belief that, although it might not be obvious to everyone now, the exploration of space is the most significant thing we will ever do as a species. The access granted by this year’s Expedition enabled members to truly reflect on where we came from and why the best way to honor those who took the first steps to the stars is to fuel the future of space exploration. And that future is a combination of public and private sector innovation. That is what I believe the heroes of Apollo would want.

Touring the facilities at NASA’s Johnson Space Center, the home of human spaceflight, you realise that while we might not yet have the space future many had hoped for, we have still come so far in space exploration. As our NASA guide reminded us as we walked into the newly developed human spaceflight research facilities, “the gateway to Mars is through these doors.” As a child of the 1990s, I truly believed we would be on Mars by 2020. That deadline has slipped back a little and there are still numerous hurdles to overcome. But to be able, as part of the Space Angels Expedition, to meet with and hear from those engineers, scientists, and entrepreneurs who are laying the foundations and working to overcome the challenges to get us to Mars is beyond inspiring. How fortunate are we to be part of a generation which is helping to enable humanity to reach out into the Solar System once again and eventually see human footsteps on the Red Planet. This is just the beginning.

‍Image credit: Space Angels

From shaking the hand of Robonaut, to visiting modern day Mission Control, virtual reality simulators, and touring a life-sized training mock-up of the International Space Station. This year’s Expedition was a true reminder of just how far we have come and where we are heading. Though, for me, what is most exciting is how private enterprise will enable this new era. Nestled next to the mock-up of the ISS is BEAM—the expandable habitat by Bigelow Aerospace—which is now on the Space Station. A great example of public private partnerships in space. This was something of particular interest to Space Angels member Brett Grossman, who admitted to feeling like “a kid in a candy shop visiting the NASA Johnson Space Center.”

Image credit: Space Angels

This new space era will not be possible without private enterprise, something which was showcased during the Expedition. During the event, we had the unique opportunity to don and pressurize an actual commercial spacesuit, developed by Final Frontier Design. A highlight for many of the participants, including Space Angels member Bill Angeloni, who described it as the chance to “look and feel like an astronaut, if only for a few minutes.”

Nanoracks is the leading provider of commercial space station services and on our visit Space Angels members had the opportunity to tour the facilities, including a commercial airlock mock-up, VR simulations and got to watch a spacewalk live from the Nanoracks mission control center, the only commercial mission control center in the world. “Until my visit to NanoRacks the idea of CubeSats and how they are launched was abstract. Seeing the Kaber launch mechanism and the airlock mock-up converted me into a super-fan.” Explained Grossman. “Their luck and timing, their unique business model, the team’s ability to capitalize on opportunities and stay nimble and agile makes me hope it is being captured in an MBA case study or book.”

The Expedition concluded with a tour of Ad Astra, the brainchild of seven-time shuttle astronaut and Costa Rican hero Franklin Chang Díaz, which provided a glimpse into a plasma propulsion system for the future of space exploration. For Grossman he felt like he had walked into a Back to the Future movie. “If even a fraction of what we saw becomes reality then the economics of space could completely change. Another group of humble and inspired individuals who warmly invited us to dream with them. Dr. Chang Díaz could be a world-changer.”

More than anything the access granted by Space Angels served as a catalyst to inspire us about what is happening in space and how the commercial sector is helping to drive forward this new era. For Brett, it has driven home his need to invest in space. “My favorite saying is ‘what we see is what we are prepared to see,’ and to that end I am even more bullish investing my long-term assets from having had the chance to peek beyond the horizon again on this Space Angels Expedition.”

While a mission to Mars and a return to the Moon beyond just flags and footprints may still be a few years off, all these things and many more that we cannot yet imagine, will happen. Pushing forward humanity in space, as well as creating a new industry and helping to improve lives for everyone here on Earth. Throughout history it has been the mavericks and the dreamers who have enabled us to push forward as a species. Space is no different. It is merely the next frontier. Expeditions such as this fuel my optimism for our space future. I am excited and hopeful for the possibilities to come.

There’s never been a better time to get involved in commercial space. If you’re ready to start investing in private space companies, we invite you to apply for membership to Space Angels.

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