Tom Wolfe's 1979 book the Right Stuff pulled back the curtain on the hidden world of fighter jocks and the first generation of astronauts. Each chosen candidate and supporting teams in the space community aspired to have what it took to be part of the small fraternity of men who risked it all to blast into space. That was called the right stuff.
Fast forward to the Washington of 2009--now the talk is of commercial space--and it seems this natural evolution of any government market is causing raw emotions on both sides.
I received three emails this week that got me thinking more about the coming era of commercial space. The first was from a veteran of the aerospace community, who wrote sarcastically, in passing, how "we will focus on the commercial, (all the rage these days.")
The second was from a good friend who has a senior position in the industry. He blasted my last blog, which spoke of the excitement of all in New Zealand for their first successful rocket launch. "Didn't go high enough," he thundered in the email, "not a true space mission," etc etc.
And then there was this, from the other side of the battle. My book Selling Peace is due out this week or next, and the best selling author Homer Hickam of Rocket Boys fame was kind enough to write a really positive blurb for the book, which ended by saying "(this) is the story of the type of men and women who will eventually conquer space and turn such stodgy government agencies as NASA into historical derelicts."
Strong language all around. It is an emotional time. Change does that.
Richard Branson may well have summed up our situation best, when in unveiling SpaceShipTwo the international entrepreneur told the Financial Times his hope that Nasa would eventually work more closely with the private sector on commercial space travel. "Nasa has a very sexy brand name but has spent billions and billions of dollars on projects that don't need to cost billions and billions." Added this very shrewd creator of companies and wealth, "(NASA) should enable private companies to take on more of the things that they do...(but) still keep the infrastructure of Nasa to oversee these projects. I have a feeling that the Obama government may be thinking that way."
We'll get our first clue of the change that is coming around December 15th--let's see what's announced in the next week from the administration. On my part, I believe 2010 will mark the start of a new right stuff to be part of this industry: acceptance that the basic laws of the private sector work even in the vacuum of outer space.
That's the right stuff that we need today.