After our L -1 morning visit to Atlantis and her crew at the pad, we returned to the KSC Visitor Center and checked out the gift shop, which was packed. We decided to head back to the hotel. There, I worked – an important thing to do since I remain a member of the spaceflight technical community as well as a strategist and have deadlines to meet – plus run a business. Then there’s the whole “reinvention” thing – singing, dancing, writing. Keeps me busy!
Late in the day, the parties started. At every launch the major aerospace companies host receptions, each of which is both an homage to the tight-knit and valiant community in which we are all fortunate to work and a corporate business development opportunity - mixed with personal networking, discussion, and some degree of careful self-congratulation (“careful” because anyone in this business for any length of time knows just how high and wide the risk is, and how narrow the margins are). This being the final launch of the Space Shuttle Program, there were many more than usual. All of them had the feeling of a celebration and a farewell – and in a few cases, optimism.
There was a “changing of the guard” taking place, though no one used those words. For me – one of many people with a foot in both “traditional” and “new” space – it was like the rest of the trip; full of warmth and the pleasure of seeing old friends, and mixed emotions. Sadness at endings. Thoughts of all the people losing their jobs and the loss to the nation that entails. And both fear and hope about the future – fear, because of the risk of turning to unproven systems, and hope for the unfettered possibilities that may emerge from doing so if all goes well enough.
First gathering of the day was the KSC party, hosted by Center Director Robert Cabana. I met a colleague in the bar of the Hilton and talked about commercialization models for a while – then we headed over to the soiree, conveniently hosted in the same hotel. We spent some time with me trying to place the faces of people I’d known at Boeing in the days I’d traveled to KSC often for International Space Station business – circa 1998. It was nice to touch base.
Next on the list was SpaceX. Madi Sengupta (@msengupta) and I headed over. The SpaceX facility is located just outside the gate of the Cape Canaveral Air Force Station (CCAFS). During the days leading up to launch they had the “flown Dragon” capsule on display. Here’s a photo of Madi and I in front of the capsule (thanks to Tim Bailey – @tim846 on Twitter – for taking the pic in the midst of a veritable blizzard of mosquitos!) Charring from the heat of re-entry is clearly visible on the vehicle.
Leaving the bugs behind, we went into the reception. Lots of energy there. It was a “who’s who” gathering of space professionals, journalists, commentators, pundits, policy wonks, and fans – those that weren’t in Orlando, that is, where there was a party for flight directors, astronauts, and other officials who had been a part of the Shuttle Program’s 30 year run.
The SpaceX reception had been by invitation but the word had definitely gotten out. Much to my delight, I ran into the husband of “a highly placed NASA official”, a respected member of the aerospace community whom I hadn’t seen for a couple of years. We spent some time catching up, after which I tagged up with Nick Skytland (@skytland), Tim B. (who fled the mosquitos too), and Madi re-introduced me to Garrett Reisman, lately of the NASA Astronaut Office but recently migrated to SpaceX. Jeff Foust (@jeff_foust), space policy analyst and editor of The Space Review and Space Politics can be seen in one of the photos below talking with Chuck Lauer, previously of Rocketplane and lately co-founder of SpaceLinq in Holland, which seeks to develop a European suborbital vehicle modeled on the RocketPlane vehicle concept. It was a fascinating collection of people.
Then came the highly placed NASA official - Lori Garver (@Lori_Garver), the NASA Deputy Administrator. I’ve known Lori for a few years and I invited her over in order to facilitate an introduction with Madi, a talented colleague whom I’ve had the pleasure to mentor off and on over the past 3 years. She recently made the difficult decision to leave NASA for graduate school in Public Policy. Lori’s training and professional experience made her a great contact for Madi. Graciously, she not only took the intro but spent some time talking shop.
Here’s a pic of myself, Lori and Madi at the reception. I love the posters all over the walls in the background – the history of US missile and space launch systems, told in photos.
(To be continued)