Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Universe, or Nothing

We are seeing more bold, visionary space start-ups these days, including my own. Rhetoric or realistic? Will today's space entrepreneurs succeed? Time will tell... technology will eventually meet the dreams, but it's the mustering of capital and the execution of viable business plans and companies that is the day to day challenge we all face.

In the big picture, meaning on the canvass of the fate of humanity and Life on Earth, utilizing space resources is essential to our evolution into a multi-world species.  The materials available to us on Earth will be gone in an instant of cosmic time, and in a thousand years we will look back on this era as the transition of humanity into an expanding space-faring civilization. If we don't do it, I fear our evolutionary opportunity on this world will have ended, either by our own irresponsibility or by nature's dispassionate wrath, and we won't be looking back at all.

As evidenced throughout our history, the bold few lead the complacent many. Our future on Earth and in Space will be the same - dependent on the vision and entrepreneurial drive of a few, largely mystifying the masses. Most people throughout history who have been cynical about the ingenuity and potential of the human race and what's possible technologically have ultimately been proven wrong.

I think it comes down to two fundamental thoughts: either you believe in humanity's future as a space-faring, multi-world species, or not. Once that is established, it's a question of when and how, not if.  If you don't believe in human expansion into the cosmos, then you've put an expiry date on the human species, tied to the lifespan of our home world, Earth, and its mother star, both of which will cease to exist over the course cosmic time.

So as H.G.Wells said, "It's the Universe, or Nothing".

Is it a coincidence that these bold space resources start-ups are largely the same leadership that gave rise to the spike of space advocacy groups in the 1980's?  Not at all... we are all Orphans of Apollo, reaching for the dreams we bought into as kids, inspired by Clarke, Heinlein, Roddenberry, O'Neill, Sagan.... the Space Generation coming of age.

I wish them all well.... as they do me. We have the same vision with different strategies and tactics. To borrow a phrase, it's not either-or, it's all of the above.

We shall see.... it needs serious, consummate execution and deep pockets backing the vision, and far more than powerpoint designs and pretty pictures to realize this fantastic future of abundance for the human race. Personally, I have never worked so hard to find the capital and talent to get Moon Express to where it is today... and we've only just begun.

I was recently asked by a journalist if all this space resource stuff is pie in the sky. Absolutely it is. And there's lots of pie, enough for all imaginable futures of abundant resources for humanity... and it's reachable.  I've believed in the promise of asteroid resources since reading John Lewis' 'Mining the Sky' in the 80's. But I have only recently come to the view that the best place to mine asteroids is actually on the Moon... where riches have been aggregating through eons of bombardment, conveniently shattered and pulverized without threat to life or ecosystems.  That's where I'm placing my bet, along with my cofounders and our investors...

We shall see... competition rocks, and I can't imagine better competitors.

And it's a big universe.

~ Bob

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

23 October 2012 - Cosmos Club, Washington, DC

Hello everyone, I'm writing this at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, where 25 years ago Peter, Todd and I founded the International Space University.

It's been an incredible journey and there are so many hundreds, probably thousands, of people behind ISU, all of whom have stories of heroism without which ISU just would not exist today.

So tonight's a celebration of our incredible journey together; the enormous progress we've made; and I think more importantly, a chance to pause and take a look at what the future holds for us.

It was always about a multi-planet species; it was always about the sanctity of Life on this planet and others, if we find it, or take it there.

Tonight I bring greetings from the origins of ISU. I really wish I could be there with you; but I have some conflicting priorities I have to attend to - trying to get to the Moon and getting our multi-planet civilization off the ground. 

I'm there with you in spirit tonight, and I bring warm greetings from Peter... and if dear Todd was with us, I know he would join us in saying:

THANK YOU to all of you who have made such a difference and committed so much to turn our ISU dream into reality, and to keep it going for the last 25 years. We look forward to the next 25 years and celebrating the 50th Anniversary of ISU on more than one world!

Have a great evening!

Bob Richards
23 Oct 2012

Sunday, August 26, 2012

A Personal Tribute to Neil Armstrong

On July 20th, 1969, I was a little boy in the living room of our country home north of Toronto. We could, just barely, receive TV signals coming from Buffalo. The screen was more fuzzy than usual, but I was transfixed on those ghostly black and white images coming from the Moon. There they were, my heroes, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, bouncing around on the Moon in an oddly slow but magical dance. I knew this was big. What I didn’t know was the event would shape my life in ways I couldn’t imagine. 

Following Apollo 11, it seemed that lunar missions were happening all the time. Barely one would finish and we’d be hearing about plans for the next one. There was no question in my mind that the concurrence of the Apollo program, 2001: A Space Odyssey and Star Trek were all points on the same path. I could be a part of an exciting future as humanity ventured to the Moon and beyond as a spacefaring species… boldly going…

Then it all stopped. As Apollo 17 ended in 1972, I became an orphan of Apollo, as did many in my generation who had been so inspired by Apollo’s recalibration of the possible.

Thankfully, the gift of Apollo didn’t fade and while in university I sought out others whose sense of infinite possibilities remained as strong as mine. Connecting at first through the social mediums of the time - letters and phone calls - I found kindred spirits in Peter Diamandis and Todd Hawley, and together we set out to connect future leaders to help us create that future we felt we had been promised. In the 1980’s we founded Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, the Space Generation, and International Space University, driven and motivated by the feats of Apollo that had inspired our childhoods and proven to us that nothing was impossible. Today these organizations continue to grow and inspire, educate and connect new generations of space leaders who are reaching for the stars.

I’ve been fortunate to come to know many of the Apollo astronauts throughout my career, but despite many common friends, I didn’t meet Neil Armstrong until just this past summer. Neil had ventured to a conference in Silicon Valley to give one of his rare public talks. Afterwards we shook hands and had a pleasant exchange.  It meant a lot to me that he knew about SEDS and ISU.

Neil’s “one small step” in 1969 was a very special moment in the evolution of humanity, beginning our transformation into a multi-world species. I wonder how many species have done so. And how unimaginably exotic those adventures to worlds beyond other worlds must have been. Some day we may share our history with another spacefaring species and learn about them, and if we do, we will speak of our own Neil Armstrong, the first emissary of Earth to set foot on another world.

“I believe that every human being has a finite number of heartbeats. I don’t intend to waste any of mine.” – Neil Armstrong

Saturday, August 13, 2011

The Moon is ME

A lot has happened this year that gives me great hope we are truly on the threshold of a NewSpace era. The time of phase change is the time of greatest stress on a system. But I believe that the voices of those who defend old ideas for the wrong reasons will inevitably be lost in the cheers of a new generation dedicated to opening up the space frontier for everyone through innovation and entrepreneurship.

The strength of the Space Frontier Foundation NewSpace conference this year is testimony to the growing prominence of our ideology. The  benevolent conspiracy underway since the 80's is now manifest in the many voices speaking a common dream. Some are agents of change from within government and some are catalysts of change in the private sector; all playing a vital role in the transformation of humanity to a multi-world species.

Many of you may have noticed the notoriety Moon Express has received recently as we've started to reveal the company and our goals. The media has been very good to us and we were happy to provide a counterpoint of optimism to an otherwise gloomy media reporting the 'end of an era' last month as the space shuttle landed for the last time. We chose that day, July 21st, to launch the company formally at a Gala Celebration in Silicon Valley. Our message of honoring the past and celebrating the beginning of a new commercial space era was well received and generated the biggest NewSpace story since SpaceShipOne won the Ansari X PRIZE.

I am extremely proud of the Moon Express team and thrilled and privileged to be joined by my co-founders Naveen Jain and Barney Pell in declaring the Moon a destination for entrepreneurship as we add our voice to the many others building the new era of commercial space. captured me at a calm moment during the July 2011 NewSpace conference and asked me to document on camera some of the history, status and goals of Moon Express. I was happy to do so and hope these three short webisodes serve as an interesting benchmark of the early days of a big dream... 

Part 1: The Moon as Icon...The Moon as Opportunity

Part 2: The End Of The Beginning

Part 3 - What a Time for a Moon Mission

I also had the great honor and privilege last month of being invited by the SETI Institute to give a talk on Moon Express. This was a particularly fun and poignant experience for me, having been so influenced by the institute's founders. So with Jill Tarter sitting in the front row and Carl's residual aura providing me much inspiration, here is my (long) talk on...

Moon Express - Pioneering the NewSpace Frontier

Moon Express has barely begun and we have a very long way to go, but the game is on and the Google Lunar X PRIZE is heating up, with the unpredictable adventures and rewards of opening up a whole new world awaiting us all.

~ Bob

Postscript - Now that the 'benevolent conspiracy' is becoming more visible through the growing influence and authority of its members, it's been interesting to see some relative newcomers troubled by the deep connectivity of our community and questioning conflict of interest ethics, when the story is actually so much bigger and its foundations so much deeper than they appear to have realized....

Yes, there really is a 'space mafia', based on lifelong relationships forged in the fires of common goals and manifest in the institutions, companies, projects and endeavors we've all dedicated our lives to realizing. We evolve through different positions and roles, but we are banyan trees sharing common roots in a forest of dreams. 

It's a wonderful global community we've built, largely through our various space advocacy groups and through institutional common experiences such as the International Space University. The friendships and networks we've built locally and globally are in fact our proudest accomplishment. It's because of these deep commitments and interpersonal relationships that we are able to do what we do.

Because we are such a relatively small community and often cross-pollinate each others' organizations, there hasn't been one of our undertakings over the years that I am aware of that hasn't proactively instituted and managed COI rules at every level of the organization. I think any reasonable consideration beyond the superficial will reveal a stunning commons of interest being executed with consummate professionalism. 

To anyone confused or discomforted by the friendships overlapping various endeavors in the NewSpace community, I think a little deeper look will help. It's not hard; there is history and no mystery; and we do not hide our interlinking friendships because it's a fact of life that we all handle on a routine basis with the appropriate checks and balances needed for professionals working with accountability to our dreams, our organizations and each other.

Friday, December 31, 2010

MOON EXPRESS - Happy New Year!

I’d like to extend my best New Year wishes to friends and colleagues at NASA, the X PRIZE Foundation, Google and all those supporting and creating the emerging commercial lunar industry.  

It’s been an amazing year of progress in commercial space. While underscoring the value of public-private partnerships in the opening of the space frontier, the “slam-dunk” success of the SpaceX F9/Dragon flight proved that entrepreneurial efforts can be successfully leveraged with government incentives to do great things. In the same spirit, NASA made a first step toward extending this model beyond Earth orbit with the introduction of the “Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD)” program, selecting six U.S. companies for contracts worth up to $10M from the purchase of data arising from their commercial lunar activities. 
Moon Express is excited to be one of those selected by NASA for the ILDD program and one of the three companies chosen for the initial $500K Task Orders. This first small step along the commercial path to the Moon will prove how the private sector can respond quickly to incentivized market opportunity. We were also proud to be announced as a new contender in the $30M Google Lunar X PRIZE competition. Together, the NASA and GLXP incentives have raised the stakes to critical mass.  

I am proud to serve as MoonEx CEO. It has been an absolute pleasure working with our founders, investors, executive team and staff in standing up a company with the experienced people, partners and financial resources to blaze a trail to the Moon. I continue to be awed and inspired by what people can do when struck with passion and vision. With the right mix of people, technology and capital, anything is possible. I have the good fortune to be surrounded by incredible people who have come together to make it happen; in many cases making substantial changes in their careers and personal lives to do so. But that’s what it takes to create the future. The many dreams shared by my friends and colleagues on the NewSpace frontier have never felt so close at hand.  

It’s an exciting time for commercial space. We are at an epochal turning point in human history. Moon Express was aptly named in honor of the bold entrepreneurship and public-private railway partnerships that opened up the American west to growth and prosperity. As we continue to learn more about the Moon and its resources, our curiosity and capital will migrate from exploration to development and ultimately settlement, helping secure our survival as a multi-planet species.  

Happy 2011 everyone. Let’s make it epic and continue to turn our dreams into reality!  

~ Bob

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Moon Express

News is breaking that a new contender in the Google Lunar X PRIZE (GLXP) has arisen and has been contracted by NASA for up to $10M in data purchases from its commercial lunar activities.

Moon Express (MoonEx) is one of six U.S. companies selected by NASA for its $30M Innovative Lunar Demonstration Data (ILDD) program. MoonEx is also revealed as an Official Team in the Google Lunar X PRIZE competition on the GLXP website today and I've noted on some blogs and tweets that some watching closely have already noticed that I am listed as the MoonEx team leader.

I am very excited about MoonEx and I can't wait to tell you more about it. We'll be revealing ourselves in a press conference to be announced in the near future, but right now we're just saying the basics:
Moon Express, Inc. (MoonEx) is a privately funded lunar transportation and data services company. We have the experienced people, partners and financial resources to blaze a trail to the Moon and establish new avenues for commercial space activities beyond Earth orbit.
On a personal note I want to congratulate all the GLXP Teams and their leadership who made the cut on the NASA ILDD program. This is a highly competitive and challenging program, not for the faint of heart nor naive of mind.

As I said in my last blog - the boundaries of a frontier are unpredictable in many ways; that's what makes it exciting. The GLXP and NASA ILDD program are very exciting competitions that represent the knee in the curve of opportunity for the commercial lunar industry. The rising tide floats all boats.  Applause to NASA for raising the stakes and good luck to everyone as we continue to pursue the vision of commercial lunar enterprise.

~ Bob.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

A Personal Odyssey

It's an exciting time for commercial lunar ventures; a realization in many ways of the pioneering work invested into Odyssey Moon over the last few years.

I am very proud of our achievements.

Most recently, NASA's announcement of over $30M in potential awards for commercial lunar activities is testimony to our efforts and pivotal in providing further incentives to entrepreneurial companies such as those known to be competing in the Google Lunar X PRIZE and perhaps some new entries to the race.

It was a very challenging goal, we knew, to embark on a private sector effort to extend the powers of entrepreneurship and risk capital beyond our current economic sphere of Earth orbit. It is a goal that I remain firmly and completely committed to achieving.

However, as reported by Parabolic Arc today, I have departed as CEO of Odyssey Moon.  After founding Odyssey Moon and taking it as far as I could as its chief executive, the rationale for investing my time and energy timed out and I have had to resign as CEO to pursue funded ventures. I hope Odyssey Moon remains recognized as a seminal mover in the history of commercial lunar aspirations.

There are a lot of developments underway in commercial space that are very exciting and we will see many new permutations as entrepreneurs seek the formulas to make it happen.

The boundaries of a frontier are unpredictable in many ways; that's what makes it exciting.

I am thrilled that amazing people and ventures continue to rally to the vision of commercial lunar activity. Success favors the bold and I look forward to continued hard work harnessing the powers of private enterprise in creating an off-Earth economy and multi-planet civilization.

- Bob.

Thursday, December 31, 2009

2010: Odyssey 2.0

The year 2010 takes me back as much as forward. For me this coming year is irrevocably connected to the book and movie 2010: Odyssey Two, sequels to the venerated originals that blew the mind of a generation.  The writing of 2010, together with the subsequent screenplay and the production of the movie, spanned the years 1982-1984. It was a time when my mentors Arthur Clarke and Carl Sagan were at the height of their articulate influence on the public and on me personally. My life had already been consigned to the art of the possible by my good fortune to connect with a young Peter Diamandis and Todd Hawley; together becoming dream weavers while immersed in a dynamic of incredibly inspirational visionaries who had once been teachers, authors and celebrities and were now our collaborators, advisors and mentors. SEDS had already been born and the Space Generation was emerging in our consciousness; an ecosystem of optimism and benign conspiracy that would be highly influential in our founding of the International Space University a few years later.

In that period it was probably Carl's potent intellect and standards that kept me reaching; but it was Arthur's personable wit, charm and sense of fun that kept me grounded. Both utterly brilliant and wonderful people, Carl gave me the cosmic perspective while Arthur gave me the sense of adventure to do something about it.

While "2001" had inspired me as a boy, the creation of "2010" became a personal odyssey. I had the fun of pointing out an astronomical error to Arthur in the book's first edition that Carl had already proof-read and blessed ("stop the presses!" Arthur yelped...); reading copies of Arthur's electronic dialog with director Peter Hyams (the screenplay was written collaboratively over a new thing called "email"; Arthur and Peter never actual met until the Hollywood premiere); shooing uncooperative pigeons into the shot for Arthur's cameo in the movie (an early scene in front of the White House; Arthur plays a homeless person sitting on a bench screen left from Roy Scheider and James McEachin); and watching Roy drop his pants to "moon" fellow actor-turned president Ronald Reagan passing overhead in Marine One (a light hearted event the film's PR company later denied).

During the 1980's, in the aftermath of the false dawn of Apollo, it became clear that the complicated embrace of politics and space exploration had ultimately failed to produce anything close to the future portrayed by the space visionaries. It became a philosophical and generational divide for many of us. The Age of Apollo was amplified by 2001: A Space Odyssey so intimately that it is not clear which phenomenon was cause or effect. While a world worn by war and uncertainty watched Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin step onto the lunar surface in 1969, the imaginations of Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick promised a future of discovery, bounty, civility and higher purpose that seemed within our grasp - a vision of a future where anything was possible. Then in a manic reversal of thrust, the Moon program was cancelled, transforming those incredible accomplishments into the unrequited aspirations of the first space generation - Orphans of Apollo.

The 2001 New Year was historic for we Orphans; however it wasn't very poignant. The imaginations of Arthur Clarke and Stanley Kubrick had so radically outpaced our known reality in space that any probability of the possible was lost. No lunar probes were flying. No commercial space liners could take us up to an orbiting hotel. At the turn of the millennium the Moon remained a world ignored; an ambition of a decayed political regime lost in the public mindset. If there were any magnetic anomalies waiting to be discovered, beacons of alien alarm clocks or not, they would have to await the resurgence of human curiosity about its sister world.

But 2010 is different. We are now immersed in a new dawn of lunar exploration; "Moon 2.0" as branded by the Google Lunar X PRIZE. In the past few years numerous government probes have delivered a stunning amount of new information about the Moon. We now know that water exists on the Moon in sufficient quantities to be a game changer for lunar exploration. Private capital is flowing into commercial space initiatives. The Moon is a whole new world embraced by collaborative public and private interests; open to government and commercial missions intent on exploring and developing Earth's closest island of opportunity in our planetary archipelago.

Arthur and Carl would have been thrilled about the renewed exploration initiatives and science being generated as we continue to discover the richness and diversity of a world so conveniently written off as dead and boring. The Moon has the land area of the combined Americas and we have barely begun to unravel and unveil its mysteries and resources. 2010 is the decade when the Moon will truly become Earth's sister world as part of our economic sphere; a destination of exploration and settlement and a stepping stone to Mars and beyond.

It should come as no surprise that my company's name, "Odyssey Moon", is a reverent nod to Arthur Clarke and all that he did to inspire we Orphans of Apollo. In my last email exchange with Arthur we shared our mutual enthusiasm for the renewed interests in the Moon and the Google Lunar X PRIZE-inspired efforts to create a sustainable commercial presence. With tongue in cheek he suggested that he'd like to offer his own personal bonus prize for the detection of any lunar magnetic anomalies...

Retrospection inspires resolution. Here's to 2010, the year we make contact with a renewed hope for our future in space and on Earth.

Happy New Year everyone.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Singularity University Executive Program

Last year, I joined Peter Diamandis, Ray Kurzweil and other leading thinkers in the founding of a really amazing institution called Singularity University (SU). Built on the International Space University model of interdisciplinary/intercultural education, SU is dedicated to preparing Humanity for accelerating technological change and educating today's leaders about tomorrow's world. Headquartered at the NASA Research Park iSilicon Valley, SU was established with the support of Google, ePlanet Ventures, Autodesk and a dozen individual Associate Founders. SU runs a 10-week graduate/post-graduate program (GSP) every summer and 9-day/3-day “Executive Programs” (EPs) several times a year; intellectual and networking marathons of the highest order that have been called life-changing experiences.

Our SU Executive Programs are designed for decision makers, entrepreneurs, CEOs, venture capitalists, strategists and government leaders from around the world. The program concentrates on six exponentially growing technologies taught by leading thinkers and doers in each field: Artificial Intelligence and Robotics, Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and Bioinformatics, Medicine and Human-Machine Interfaces, Networks & Computing Systems, and Energy & Environmental Systems. Attending the program gives you an understanding of how these accelerating technologies will transform your business, your industry and your world by showing you what is in the lab today and where the technologies will be in 5 and 10 years. A detailed description of the program including video testimonials from past participants and a personal introduction by Peter Diamandis is available here.

Our next 9-day Executive Program will run from February 26th -March 7th, 2010. Participation is limited but there are still some spots left. The fee is $15,000 including all food, accommodations, field trips and special events. If you’re interested in participating, you can complete the application here.

We held our inaugural 9-day Executive Program in November 2009 with outstanding results. I was there and was thrilled at the level of discussion and collegial networking between our incredible participants, faculty and staff.

Here are some quotes from our inaugural Executive Program Participants:
"Every presentation and conversation blew my mind."
"EP09 has been one of the most exciting, intense and challenging experiences of my life."
"I took away a lot of new ideas and amazing, amazing contacts. I think I will be able to formulate some very high impact messages for my company that could really shape its near term actions and strategies."
"I am grateful for the chance to be part of this experience. It is an exceptional opportunity. It is so rare in life to have a chance (particularly later in life) to spend nine days with equally qualified, equally inspired, and equally capable people."
Here are some recent articles about the SU/EP program:

SU has been covered extensively by the media since we announced its founding at TED on February 3rd, 2009. The January 2010 issue of POPULAR SCIENCE has a 6-page spread on our inaugural Graduate Studies Program (GSP'09): "Greetings from Future Camp". 

Treat yourself to some brain candy with a selection of SU lectures on our website. If (beyond yourself) someone you know might be interested in the SU programs, please spread the word. SU is a very special place where anything is possible. It's a place where amazing, passionate people meet each other and collaborate to grow themselves and their ventures, and take on grand challenges to create a better world.

Applications for GSP'10 and our next EP are open on our website: