It was a year ago today that my son Willie and I travelled to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, outside of Washington, where I was to deliver a keynote for a senior leadership team.
The theme of my talk? In the grand scheme of things, over the long term, “the business of space is changing,” and organizations such as NASA need to evolve with the new business models that are emerging.
Of course they know that; but the challenge is working the message through the organization, encouraging people to think differently about the future. That was my job in speaking to several hundred of their top research scientists, innovation partnership directors and others.
This was my second keynote for NASA: a few years earlier I spoke outside of Houston to a group of astronauts, launch directors, mission controllers and other folks with fascinating careers!
Consider the reality faced by any science-drive, government funded organization such as NASA today, particularly with ongoing debate over the size and scope over government spending. It’s a reality that involves:
- funding and budget cuts on an ongoing basis
- cancellation and gutting of programs
- greater pressure on remaining initiatives
- a growing public weariness with all levels of government, with resultant policy debate on the purpose and benefit of programs such as those carried out at Goddard
Contrast that to the rapid emergence of what some call the “NewSpace” industry, as a series of bold thinkers, iconic entrepreneurs, crowdfunded teams and others look to opportunities in the heavens as the “next big thing.”
- it’s estimated that today, there are 350 companies worldwide in the “NewSpace” industry
- 75% are privately held
- opportunities being examined not just space tourism, but in-space manufacturing, pharmaceutical development, and asteroid mining
- investors include such folks as Eric Schmidt (ex of Sun Microsystems), Charles Simonyi (ex of Microsoft), James Cameron (Titanic and Avatar), and Larry Page (of Google), among others
There is a quote from Bill Gates that I use in every presentation I do: “Most people tend to overestimate the rate of change that will occur on a two year basis, and underestimate the rate of change that will occur in ten years. Don’t let yourself be lulled into inaction.”
So it is with NASA and similar industries — the industry you are in today will look nothing in 10 years, like it does today.
My message: change is happening, and it is happening quickly. The key for research based science centres such as Goddard is that they must reach outside of their world in terms of innovation and opportunity; collaborate and partner in new and different ways; respect the acceleration of science that is emerging on crwowfunding networks.
It was a wonderful day; particularly with the post-event tour and discussions, once of the most exciting events I have participated in. And I think they enjoyed it — the feedback that came in right after the stated, “On behalf of the entire Innovative Technology Partnerships Office, thank you for your engaging and thought-provoking presentation at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. From the feedback we have received, the event was a great success. Thank you for sharing your insight and expertise with us!”