In my first business class the professor said we would be learning about companies like General Motors, Boeing, Xerox and other large corporations than made up the U.S. industrial base. We were going to learn about large market trends like the oil and gas markets and we were going to learn how to understand how these markets impacted our country and the rest of the world. I was lost, first day of class. Great. I was studying at New Mexico State University. NMSU had seven thousand students at the time. My high school in New York had grades ten through 12 with sixteen hundred students.
The contrast in scale and environment between New York and New Mexico was not something I tried to reconcile because I had no experience. The Vietnam War was going on. The only large systems I thought about was the Army, the war and the draft. No one ever talked to me about what role General Motors played in the war. I thought they made cars, and I certainly was not going to work in a factory. I knew I wanted to work. And working at General Motors was not going to be in my future any more than being an astronaut was in my future. Being an astronaut was a conscious opt out decision. I along with possibly millions of young students knew, we were never going to get to become astronauts so don’t even think about it. Thousands of people my age knew they were going to war.
Sitting in class I did not realize how I closed my ears and mind when I heard about large corporations, I was never going to work in one of them, I knew that. So business classes became like many other classes in those days, I opted out because I could not figure out how I was going to use the information. The more I opted out, the more I searched for where I fit.
I did not realize how destructive that life was. How could I? I just kept getting deeper and deeper into poverty of thought, opportunity, and confidence. Yet, there was one person who made a difference in my life. He was not a priest, nor a member of the faculty. It was Jim, the man who ran the Natatorium at NMSU. It’s where I used to swim, and life guard. Jim gave me the job because the swim coach, Dr.Welch knew I needed a job. Jim taught me how to fix my car, a General Motors Chevrolet. Jim got me a couple of tools, and an old tool box so I could fix my car. I could improve my life by fixing my own car, and that made me want to learn about General Motors.
When I write about people who come to the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight (ISPCS) like former astronaut Frank Culbertson, I realize you have no way to connect to what he is doing. Likely some of you readers unconsciously opt out. Once I found a way to connect, I changed my mind. Although we have many companies with people working in the space industry here in Las Cruces, I realize there is a disconnect. But, I am more hopeful than I used to be.
Frank has been to Las Cruces many times. He does not think is a special person. He was in space on September 11, 2001, on the International Space Station (ISS). Frank is President of Orbital ATK space systems division which just completed its 6th ISS resupply mission on Tuesday, March 29th. It is such a hard business to keep the space station operating and the humans on board alive. NASA had 18,000 applications for the next astronaut class. Lots of people think they can and will go to space these days. They opted in. I find life is far more interesting when I opt in. I just needed a few tools to get me started.
I believe we are going to get a few more people interested in the space industry this year than last. As we are developing classes and projects slowly at NMSU, more faculty and students have a chance to see how they can maybe work in the industry. I am wearing a T shirt right now, the President of the American Institute for Aeronautics and Astronautics Student Chapter works in my office. She worked on the recent Space Race event, an innovation challenge sponsored by the Center for Advancing Innovation, and New Mexico Space Grant. She is also applying for an internship at Virgin Galactic. Work gave me purpose. And its jobs, meaningful work that makes our society worth growing. I realize how my closed mind happened, one decision after another, slowly over time my road narrowed. Now when I find myself unconsciously closing my mind, which happens very often, I stop. See what happens if you catch yourself closing your mind. Tell me about it.