ISU Entrepreneur Panel at NASA Ames



Moderator: Gary Martin, NASA Ames Director of the New Ventures and Communications Directorate


Peter Diamandis – ISU, SU, Zero-G
Gary Hudson – CEO, AirLaunch LLC; Co-founder, t/Space
Eric Anderson – CEO, Space Adventures


Gained a lot of experience as an undergraduate founding and running SEDS

Advice: choose something that is achievable

Draper Labs – tried to get them to donate $5,000 to SEDS – managed to get them to do printing and mailing – spent $30,000 in-kind contributions

Lesson: Never take no for an answer, always take something useful away from a situation – who else can I talk to?

“Anything you do is really hard. And it’s extraordinarily important that you love it.”

X PRIZE – 10 Years

Took 11 years
“We were told to shut it down over and over again.”
“We finally outlasted the bureaucrats.”

Know what your good at – he’s not good at day-to-day ops
Find people who complement you and your abilities
Try to build incrementally – do one thing, do it well, and then move on from there to something more complicated


“You know how you make a big fortune in the space business? You start with a bigger one.”

Inspirations – Walt Disney, Wernher von Braun – Did a TV series during 1950s on going to Mars

Wanted to build human-rated rockets – was referred by a friend to Arthur C. Clarke – Clarke said he thought Hudson could do it – was very inspiring….


“Some of the greatest things you learn are from some of the people you never expect to learn anything from”

It’s really important to plan…..but the plan changes….doesn’t survive its encounter with reality….

In 1997, thought that suborbital flights would come first within about 2 years….turned out the first flight was an orbital one four years later….we’re still waiting 12 years later for the first suborbital passenger service….

The secret is that there is no secret….hard work, right people, correct strategy….

Quoted Larry Page of Google: About 99.9999 percent of the world are not working on anything that could change the world….so your chances are better than you think….

A crazy idea is just a crazy idea until the day it works….


Q. How do you pay your mortage and send kids through school while pursuing crazy idea?

Anderson: Just welcomed new child a few months ago. (Applause). It was good that he was young @ 22 or 23 pursuing it.

Diamandis: Pay your bills and work on things on the weekends and nights. Eventually you decide to go for it. “There are no guarantees and, at the end of the day, you have to take a risk.”

Hudson: Marry a woman who loves what you do as much as you do, and she brings in the money.

Luck and timing (right place at right time) also plays a large role in people’s success as well….

Google had a clever algorithm on search….but what drew him to it was the very simple interface…. Story is that Larry Page didn’t know enough HTML to do anything more….this is probably an apocryphal story….

[Editor’s Note:  It does sound like a good urban myth. Wouldn’t take much HTML knowledge to do something more complicated. Simplicity is one of the key reasons that people like Google. I doubt that was an accident.]

Q: Peter, tell us about some of your failures?

Example: 1999 – height of the Internet boom – Got a call from Bill Gross, founder of IdeaLabs….raised a billion dollars and set aside $60 million to do a private lunar mission….sold his house, moved to California and hired about 60 people….

Mission kept growing in size and scope….eventually fell apart….

When you have a chunk of money, do something concrete with it….achievable….

Example: ISU had three steps – summer session, permanent campus, orbital campus…started small with a single summer session at MIT where they had plenty of support…

Q: Just how evil is ITAR?

Panelists: Uber evil

Anderson: “A big failure.” Well intentioned way to keep technology out of the hands of America’s enemies; however, the unintended consequences are that it created competition overseas anyway.

Hudson: “I think ITAR is the stupidest thing the United States has done in a long, long, long time.”

Arianespace exists because the U.S. government refused to allow the launch of a French satellite on a Delta spacecraft.

Diamandis: “A dismal disaster.”

Q: Innovation in space?

Hudson: very much opposed to destination based exploration….Moon, Mars….build the technologies that allow you to travel through the solar system….

NASA has abdicated that responsibility in recent years….the agency’s predecessor, NACA, used to be focused on developing the technologies….

NASA canceled a billion dollars in tech development to focus on a destination-based program….criminal….

Q: How do you deal with disasters?

Anderson: After Columbia broke up, thought his business was over. Ended up calling clients, but the clients and they understood. Not one client left.

Hudson: On the Rotan ATV, had to sign releases for his pilots. Refused to allow them to fly the fourth fight; only had a few million, would have let them go if they had more money. One of the pilots was Brian Binnie, who flew SpaceShipOne.

One of his crew died in the Scaled Composites explosion in 2007. “If we do not take this risk, if we trivialize the risk and the sacrifices they take….this history of the human race ends on this planet.”

Unless we open the space frontier, there is no future….

Diamandis: faced the issue that with the X Prize, questions about whether they were incentivizing people to incinerate themselves….

Faced question in Congress, pointed to Europeans who conquered America and the Americans who risked their lives in the American Revolution….

Q. What about Future technology innovations/reduction in launch costs?

Hudson: need to develop reuseable technologies….need technological innovations but no fundamental breakthroughs in physics….