Where are we supposed to meet? Here or down at the outfitters? Beats me was the answer…again. I was with a group of speakers at a conference, and we were headed to the speaker’s dinner at the Sami camp. The Sami are the native people who live above the arctic circle in Lapland. They are reindeer herders. Their art is spare, similar to Zuni imagery, their songs resemble cowboy yodeling. Once again, the out of towners were lost. I was invited to speak in Sweden on space transportation. I traveled across the globe, got exactly where I was supposed to be, and was lost. What is the thread that weaves the hours into a memory? What is the smallest part of a big adventure? At a conference on space transportation, we couldn’t’ figure out where we were supposed to meet.
I like a schedule, and an agenda. I believe a schedule is a commitment, an agreement. A transportation industry must include schedules. Otherwise there is no industry, just people, goods and vehicles going on their own at random times to random places. That’s why I am well suited to work on this space transportation business. I am working to increase predictability and decrease random nature of space travel.
If you have ever traveled to watch a Space Shuttle launch, you knew to put an end date on your stay. You may see a launch, you may not. But, don’t wait around; launches can be delayed for months. For good reason launches are delayed. Those days of millions of moving parts and unsustainable maintenance costs are gone. Building in complexity to a transportation system creates more complexity. The Shuttle was likely the most significant transportation machine ever built by man. Those who flew in them honor all the dedication, innovation and creativity that went into the vehicles and program. We will continue to reap benefits from this vehicle and its support systems for years. We are moving on to less expensive, more sustainable vehicles for a more diverse industry.
Simplicity. What is so hard about giving people a schedule? Be at Gate 37 by 12:15 to board your plane. As I discussed the confusion with my colleagues, it became a cherished thread linking each of us closer during the trip. Every time we discovered we didn’t know where we were going or why we were all standing around hoping someone knew what was next, each discovered how the others dealt with ambiguity. Sometimes the best parts of a trip include the ridiculous.
Yet, I believe the lack of predictability in the access to space has contributed to the ambivalence people have about the industry. If no one knows for sure when they will have access to a place, it is forgotten. Think about our downtown mall. It was inaccessible for many years, people just didn’t go there. It was certainly not a market place.
At a recent meeting in the Long Beach Convention Center, I was intentionally looking at the spaces where people gathered. There was a main auditorium that seated 800 people. Lectures started at 8:30am and continued until 5:30 pm. Speakers included Nobel laureates, Pulitzer Prize winners, and our Poet Laureate. There were fifteen hundred people in attendance. Throughout the Convention Center there were small lounges where small groups of people could watch the lectures on video, check their email and also talk. I had not seen bean bag chairs since I left college, but they were all over the place. And in use as people relaxed and listened.
I was sent a software tool prior to the meeting to help me connect with people who had similar interest to mine. I discovered most people did not use the tool. As the days progressed I became more focused on my original purpose for attending. I wanted to learn how people gathered at meetings, and how I could determine their interest in what we are working on here in New Mexico. The interesting conversations became frequent, one more exciting than the next, yet, where were they leading? Like this article you may be wondering, where are we going here? Is the feeling of being lost, aimless, uncertain part of the human journey? I avoid it. I like purpose. I am aim to get to space, and others want to go too. They expect to have interesting work to keep them productively occupied, they expect to explore. No lost in space for them or me.