The thing that all of the space entrepreneurs of this century have in common: as children, they were enthralled by America’s accomplishments in space. Elon Musk has good reason to believe in the space program as a source of inspiration. He himself was sucked into space by Apollo.
Burt Rutan, one of the first private space pioneers, was one of them as well. An aeronautical engineer by training, he started out as a civilian employed by the Air Force before founding his own aircraft company in 1974, specializing in homemade airplane kits and went on to eventually design a rocket that would be carried by a large airplane, modestly called the White Knight, before igniting its own fuel, thus saving tons of weight.
Private space has a lot going for it; not least the unflagging enthusiasm of its technology-born champions, who are themselves inspiring young people. While they vary in age—Rutan is 28 years older than Musk—they share remarkably similar stories of being inspired by space. Nearly all grew up watching Star Trek. All of them talk about Apollo as a life-changing experience. All of them are STEM geeks, inspired by space to acquire a technical education. And all of them wish to inspire a younger generation to go into space.
In fact, the space industry bears a remarkable resemblance to the industry that enriched most space entrepreneurs: the Internet, a space that’s out of this world— a virtual world. Think about it; a generation ago, few people imagined that the “bricks and mortar” world of retail would be rocked by an online bookstore named after a river, or that people would trust their money to flow through a single website called PayPal, or that computer geeks would become billionaire celebrities while still in their twenties.
Those Web and software entrepreneurs defied the establishment in every way possible; Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and Elon Musk were proud college dropouts who spent their careers defying expectations and achieving the impossible. Musk didn’t just become rich in his twenties; he founded and sold two successful companies and went on to create three companies, all in different industries— space, automotive, and solar energy. This was a group who seemed capable of achieving anything. Just as Apollo had inspired a generation of technically minded people, the Internet generation attracted the best and the brightest to explore their own virtual worlds. Those Web pioneers themselves were inspired by the space pioneers who went to the Moon. When the time came to put their vast new wealth to the highest purpose possible, entrepreneurs like Bezos, Musk, Ansari, and Allen understandably chose space. It made sense. “Astronauts were like heroes to them,” said John Spencer, president of the Space Tourism Society, in an interview with Entrepreneur magazine. “Once they grew up and became wealthy enough, they migrated essentially to the space world, because that’s the ultimate challenge.”
Space is the coolest; the noblest, next-level thing there is, a cornucopia of impossibilities to overcome, just like the early Internet. Like the virtual space of the Web, outer space offers otherworldly exploration.
1. What and/or who inspires you?
2. What other organizations or new industries are a result of the space program?
3. How might the knowledge ore and technology that is developed through space programs impact career opportunities of the future?