February 28, 2010

Going into space - What you can do If you really put your mind to it.

Today I went to a rocket testfiring of what will probably be the first Danish launch of a human being into space. You could hear the roar of the rocket for miles as it went off strapped to a huge concrete block. That's pretty big. The bigger thing is that it's all done by a private venture. And the really amazing thing is that it's done by two ordinary guys who just decided that this is what they're going to do, and not care what anyone else thinks. No rich dad, no venture funding, no prerequisites whatsoever. They just decided to do it.

Getting a human into space isn't easy, far from it. NASA spends billions doing it, and they still don't get it right every time. They've spent the last 50 years perfecting rockets, heat shields, trajectories, recovery, telemetry, fuels, computers, communication and a host of other technologies. The money has been spent building knowledge and designing better materials, which enter the public domain and quickly become available in the marketplace. This means that you don't have to start from scratch. You're standing on the shoulders of giants. You can dig into the costly research and see which mistakes have been made and what insights have been gained. You can go out and buy advanced ceramic materials and aerogel. You can do this because the research has already been done, and the costs have already been incurred. Spaceage materials are now cheap and common.

Burt Rutan was standing on the shoulders of giants when he won the Ansari X-price by launching Spaceship one into space twice in a two week period. A long lasting government monopoly had been broken, and small nimble companies started appearing out of the woodwork. Space tourism is being talked about, and will probably be a reality in the near future. Continued development and progress in the arena is the only thing that has made this possible. Burt Rutan wouldn't stand a chance with the technology available to NASA in the 60's, but luckily they spent billions so that he could undertake his amazing journey using the technology and materials that have been perfected over the last 50 years.

And now Copenhagen Suborbitals is pushing the envelope even further. They're basically the two proverbial guys in a garage building the future. They've rented some cheap land in an old shipyard and spend night and day welding and calculating. They're financing this by getting sponsors and charging the public $40 to see the rocket tests they do. They're not only guys in a garage, they're guys in a garage that wil send a human in to space without any funding except sponsors and admission fees. They have currently raised less than $20.000 and materials (liquid oxygen, stainells steel flanges etc.) and are doing fine.

I know one of the guys, Peter Madsen, because before he started building rockets he built the worlds largest homemade submarine. He's the kind of guy that just doesn't take no for an answer. He'll keep on going until he succeeds or dies. There's nothing in between. This attitude combined with the available technology gives me great hope that him and Kristian von Bengtson will succeed. The combination of great personal drive and cheap available technology is very powerful. With it you can do almost anything you want. Like building your own rocket to shoot you into space.

Building a startup is similar - it's never been easier due to cheap available technology. It isn't even rocket science.

Oh, and this is one of the rare cases where the "Launch early and launch often" mantra of many startups doesn't apply

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