Bill Gaubatz, another pioneer and visionary in the government and commercial space programs, with ties of the heart to New Mexico, died on July 5th. “The DC-X was the perfect blending of vision, goals, experience, and expertise with passion and trust,” recalled William Gaubatz, who was the DC-X program manager at McDonnell Douglas in the 1990’s. I witnessed one of the test flights as a guest of Joe Fries, the NASA site manager at White Sands Test Facility. Dan Goldin, NASA Administrator was there as was astronaut Pete Conrad, the Flight Test Manager.
The test was held at White Sands Missile Range. The point of this test was to demonstrate ground operations could emulate aircraft operations. The idea was to have a small crew prepare the vehicle for spaceflight, launch and reenter the vehicle without the standing army we had for the Shuttle Program. Small and efficient ground operations is an essential part of the Virgin Galactic concept of operations at the spaceport. Members of the space industry knew 20 years ago, money is made or lost on the ground. If you look out the window at an airport, you will see very few people on the tarmac. Airlines keep costs down by buying reliable, easy to service vehicles that can be turned around quickly from flight to flight.
The Delta Clipper experimental program or DC-X was a single stage to orbit (SSTO) program for the United States government’s Strategic Defense Initiative Organization (SDIO). As Jeff Faust recently wrote in the Space Review http://www.thespacereview.com/article/2548/1 , “A small team …operating in the New Mexico desert, sought to change the future of space access with the small program DC-X program in the early 1990s. After the test I met Dr. William Gaubatz. We eventually became the Co-founders of the International Symposium for Personal and Commercial Spaceflight.
Bill’s children came to New Mexico for the 20th reunion of the DC-X’s first flight in 2013. Cathy Harper with the New Mexico Museum of Space History organized the reunion. She is one of those behind the scenes people who Bill valued. He counted on her to get the hundreds of details right for both the 15th and 20th reunions. New Mexico can bring out the best in people. When Bill came to New Mexico to work with me on the symposium, years after the ending of the Delta Clipper, he would say many times how good it was to be back here. He had a joy about him that he translated through his smile.
People often said Bill was persistent. Persistence is perhaps the most underrated virtue in the Universe, and Bill had it in spades. Let his example encourage us to redouble our efforts to make humanity a space-faring species, and to fear no darkness. A co-worker wrote of Bill’s at McDonnell Douglas in Huntington Beach remembered how Bill’s lobbying in Washington DC for more DC-X/XA funding saved the day! After a while he quit worrying about it knowing that Bill was at the helm. An operational SSTO vehicle was Bill’s ultimate vision … Leaders are not born, they are shaped by their environment and the choices they make to develop their character.
Napoleon Hill wrote about the importance of having a major purpose in life. I have mine, increase access to space for mankind. I work it daily, often, one conversation at a time. Bill never stopped working on his vision, and turns out now I am working on it. A conversation I had today at work reminds me of the importance of cheerleaders, and I am glad to say I have many. One of the NMSU Sun Dancers works in my office. She is an Aerospace Engineering student, entering her senior year. Their work out schedule is a killer. Yet, she does it every day, because she wants to be ready for football season. Fitness to do the job as well as desire are both necessary. Sometimes cheerleading helps to get us moving.
Bill was an actor for our industry. Turning vision into reality for our sub-orbital space industry is dependent on sharing the vision. As a member of the Board for the XPRIZE Foundation, Bill encouraged Peter Diamandis, one of the founders, to start the Ansari XPRIZE. Richard Branson came to New Mexico because of the Balloon Festival. He came back because the leaders in New Mexico acted and recruited him to open space for mankind. Persistence is manifest in the Virgin Galactic company now. If it was easy to build a space ship for consumers it would have been done by now.