Ad Astra: Taking Spaceflight Into Our Own Hands

Let's try alittle thought experiment. Suppose that a stranger walked up to you with thefollowing pitch:

"Goodmorning. I and some friends of mine are planning a trip to Antarctica. We'dlike to ask your help. It'll be great fun, a great adventure, the trip of alifetime, really. I'm sorry we can't invite you along, but it's veryexpensive, and there's room for just a few of us on the boat. So you can't go- in fact, you can never go - but we'd like to ask you to help financially. Wefigure if everyone we talk to chips in with a few bucks, we'll be able to makethe trip. And in return, we'll send you back some postcards.

"They'rereally great postcards..."

Would yoube inclined to help this fellow out? Or would you be rather more likely totell him, with varying degrees of profanity depending on your upbringing, thatsince he's the one who wants to make the trip, he should whittlehimself a canoe and stop bothering you?

There aresome generous souls who would reach into their wallets. But I suspect thatthis pitch lacks great appeal for most of us, myself included. Yet it ispretty much the same pitch we've been using with the general public to sell theidea of a space program using government funds.

We willnever make it to the stars on handouts. We need to take responsibility for thefinancing of our own dreams.


An entrepreneurialspirit

It is verytrue that getting to space in any big way will require a lot of money (thoughpeople like Burt Rutan are in the process of proving that it can be a lotcheaper than previous methods). But that's not a reason to throw up our handsand haul out the begging bowl. It's a reason to educate ourselves in the waysof wealth.

We haverole models showing us the way - people like Paul Allenof Microsoft, who gave Burt Rutan thefunds to build SpaceshipOne, and Elon Muskand JeffBezos, who are shelling out large sums from their own fortunes to developlaunch systems that will be cheaper to operate, and open space transportationas a profitable business. We need more financiers like them every bit as much- perhaps even more than - we need more engineers like Burt Rutan.

All threeof these entrepreneurs made their fortunes in software, but that's only thenewest route to wealth. Richard Branson,the money man behind Virgin Galacticand The Spaceship Company, made his own fortune in several other businessesbefore he turned his gaze in our direction.

Themathematics of making money is a lot easier to grasp than physics andengineering. You don't even have to be particularly good at making money, youjust have to be good at saving it. When Albert Einstein was asked what themost powerful force in the universe was, he replied, "Compound interest."

Yetwhenever I attend a space convention, the finance track seems to be one of theleast well-attended. Most of the space crowd would rather sit in on anotherpanel with brand new viewgraphs of exciting new spaceship designs, most ofwhich will never - never ever - make it off the drawing boards because ourcommunity isn't devoting an equal amount of time and effort to the question offunding.


A reasonto get rich

If you reallywant to get to space, I have a simple suggestion: devote at least half as muchtime and study and effort to making yourself wealthy as you give to whateverelse you're doing to get there. It's fine to start small, but start. Add asubscription or two to business and financial magazines to your subscriptionsto Space News and Ad Astra. Join an investment club. Startsaving money, and look for ways to invest.

It would begreat to have a few more billionaires on the rockethead team, but a fewthousand millionaires will be just as good. Begin planning and working now tobe one of them. Even if you don't wind up with enough money to fund TheSpaceship Company, you just might wind up with enough money to buy a ticket.

Gettingrich(er) isn't just the practical way to get there sooner, it's the morallyright thing to do. This is our dream. We should be the ones to pay for it.

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