After growing up with NASA’s Space Shuttle program and dreaming of becoming an astronaut for more than a decade, I started to lose faith in NASA during the early years of this century. Their human spaceflight program had stalled out in the wake of the Columbia accident, and I learned more and more about why the shuttle program had failed to live up to its expectations. This led to my eventual conclusion that waiting on NASA to create the opportunities for space exploration I was dreaming of was the wrong approach. Modern history had shown Congress was unlikely to dedicate the time and funds necessary to build a long lasting space exploration program. And, NASA’s history, while full of great accomplishments, is one of fits and starts, not sustainable growth and expansion.
I realized the only way my dream of space exploration could become a reality was to take matters into my own hands. So I started mulling over why NASA couldn’t accomplish the goals I dreamed of and what would need to change to make those goals possible. And I talked about my thoughts to anyone who would listen, which mostly turned out to be Maureen, Bekah, and Andy (all of whom would eventually become founding members of the Mach 30 Board).
I think Maureen must have gotten a little tired of listening to my constant monologues. And I’m sure that she knew I needed to do more than talk about my ideas if they were going to go anywhere beyond arm chair quarterbacking the space industry. So, she bought me a Moleskine notebook and told me to write down what I was telling her and Andy and Bekah. She also started buying me very select management books she had seen in her MFA Arts Administration program.
So I wrote, and I read, and I wrote, and I talked, and I repeated the entire process. I still have the old notebooks that I used to gather and sort and refine my ideas. At least a year went by before things started to come together a little. Ideas that came out of this period included:
- Space is too expensive and too long a payoff to implement the fundamental work we need to do in a for-profit enterprise, so we needed a non-profit organization to do this work
- We needed to open source spaceflight so we could do for space what open source software had done for the computing industry
- This is too big a problem for one group to tackle. Could there be something like an arts council for space exploration? For many years this idea had such a tight hold on the group of people involved that we called the project the Space Council. Nowadays, I think a better model is the Apache Software Foundation, but this post is more about yesterday than today.
- The vehicles, stations, and other hardware we need to explore our solar system effectively do not yet exist, and developing this hardware is a very distinct process from actually exploring space. It seemed that we would need two very distinct groups to accomplish the dream: the builders and the explorers. Sometimes called “developers” and “operators”
- Everyone involved should be able to come down to see the fruits of the organization’s labors so they could connect with the dream personally. And there is strength in interdisciplinary sharing. So we need a single base of operations where developers, operators, business, support, and all teams can come together to work and share. Many times this has been envisioned as a campus-like facility that blends nature, work, life, and technology seamlessly
- We need reusable launch vehicles if we are to truly open space access for all
Many of these themes are probably familiar to Mach 30 volunteers as they form the core of what Mach 30 is today. And those that are not yet visible are probably hidden mostly due to our not having reached the stage where we need to implement them. But rest assured, the day will come when Mach 30 will proudly announce the development of its headquarters and the beginning of a reusable launch vehicle program.
Mach 30’s Vision circa 2008