NASA Solar System Ambassador, Virgin Galactic Future Astronaut, and astronomy and spaceflight educator Ron Rosano works hand in hand with Virgin Galactic and Galactic Unite to bring space closer to the children of our generation.
YOUniverse founding member Dodo Newman was delighted to reach out Ron in San Francisco, a few days after Virgin Galactic’s exceptional unveiling of SpaceShipTwo Unity.
As a passionate space lover, Ron secured his place for SpaceShipTwo five years ago, however he does much more on a daily basis. He works with a charity called Galactic Unite, and in the past two years he has organised over 150 classrooms into live video conferences with Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts and Virgin Galactic employees. One of Ron’s main aims is to spread the word about commercial space travel.
Many people believe that space travel is the game of the rich, but it is not exclusively that. Some ticket holders even refinanced their homes to fulfill their childhood dreams. There are many stereotypes as well that the rich can throw money away on joyrides to space. Dodo talked with Ron about the prejudices and difficulties of space travel nowadays, the expensive ticket prices and its expected future price drops, as well as the incredible respect between the competitors, and above all, the inspiration that space travel can provide to today’s youth.
Overall it is possible to see the tendency among the majority of the ultra-rich that they are more likely to prioritise their own self-interests above the interests of other people. However due in part to the hard work of Ron, Galactic Unite proves exactly the opposite, through its Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts. It is incredible how many future astronauts have joined Ron and Galactic Unite, committing themselves to Planet Earth, the “Orbital Perspective” philosophy and the future of humanity.
During an almost two hours long interview, Ron opened up to Dodo and talked about not just space and commercialised space travel, but also about his personal life, giving a very inspiring example how the grandchild of Italian immigrants can fulfill his dreams by hard work and commitment.
Dodo: Tell me Ron how was your experience at the great inauguration day of Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Unity?
Ron: It was very exciting, wonderful to talk with the people who work for Virgin Galactic, and of course very cool to see the hardware in person. We were able to walk around and underneath the spaceship and the WhiteKnightTwo, have a hands on experience, and take photos.
Dodo: Could you go inside also?
Ron: No, the doors were not open. We looked at it all from the outside.
Dodo: Like a secret.
Ron: Yes, because at many events, the vehicles are blocked off and you cannot touch them. However here you could actually put your hands on the Spaceship, and for me it was a meaningful connection.
Dodo: Sure, and you met some other people there who you will be flying with? It seems the whole world united there.
Ron: Yes, a lot. Gosh. Virgin Galactic invited the founder astronauts, the first one-hundred ticket holders, and a few others . Because of my involvement and the amount of time I spend with Galactic Unite, I was included as a guest, which was very considerate. I met for the very first time many of the first one hundred astronauts that will fly. I was surprised by the number of countries represented – there were people from Pakistan, Portugal, Chile, Denmark, Luxembourg, South Africa, Japan, and a person that who works in Uganda and Dubai. Many people came a long way. They had a get together for us Thursday night, transportation for all of us on Friday, and dinner with Richard Branson and his family. It was an exceptional event.
I met Richard Branson’s mother, Eve Branson, for the very first time. It came up that we have the same birthday, and she and I toasted to that.
They also gathered some press people at the event during the unveiling, corporate and government supporters, clients and suppliers, and lot of Virgin Galactic employees. I had met with a lot of them during these hangouts,including some people from New Mexico I had not met in person. It was terrific to meet with them; they are very sincere and committed to the project. Everyone I’ve met from Virgin Galactic is focused, and has an energy, a spirit about them that makes me very confident that, YES this is really going to happen.
I was able to spend some time with one of the pilots, Todd Ericson. It was a thrilling day.
Dodo: The passion unites people.
Ron: I think it is a very good “space” on Earth right now, I think.
Dodo: You will not be flying this flight now. You will be flying later?
Ron: I will be flying later. Most of these people bought tickets from 2006 – 2008, and I bought my ticket in 2010. My official number is 362, so around the 60th flight – I am somewhere in the middle. I could be among the first 1.000 people in space. We’ll see, as companies such as Blue Origin and XCOR will also be flying.
Dodo: Yes, and there are many others as well such as SpaceX or Vulcan Aerospace.
Ron: SpaceX and Vulcan are doing things very differently than Virgin Galactic. The suborbital companies for commercial flights for people are Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and XCOR. Those three are the ones that are most public. Maybe there are others who are secretly doing things. But those three have spent a significant amount of money and they have their projects pretty far along. There is another company called World View which has a different system. They are flying a capsule under a balloon and a parafoil to 100,000 feet, but not 330,000 feet.
Vulcan Aerospace is doing something very similar to what Orbital Sciences have done for a very long time with their Pegasus rocket. They carry a rocket and air launch it, and the satellite atop the rocket goes to the orbit. It is air launched like the Virgin Galactic spaceship.
SpaceX and Orbital ATK do vertical lift off from the ground as part of a NASA commercial contract. Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin and XCOR are all privately funded, but SpaceX and Orbital Sciences have a significant NASA funding, I think in excess of two billion dollars for SpaceX. The mission for Orbital ATK and SpaceX is to carry cargo to the space station.
That is how the groups are as I see them.
Dodo: Yes, and probably there will be many others, and who knows how quickly this sector will evolve in the next years, like mushrooms growing with different aims and different technologies. It is just a beginning.
Ron: It is a very exciting time, and not just for commercial companies, but also for private citizens.
Dodo: It must be an honour for you as well to be part of it. I saw that you were also asked in the official Virgin Galactic interview during the unveiling of the new SpaceShipTwo.
Ron: Yes, that was kind of Alan Boyle to include my quote alongside those of Richard Branson, George Whitesides, Doug Shane and others in his article for GeekWire. I have seen many of his articles over the years. I watched a lot of NASA press conferences during all the major NASA events: from space shuttle accidents, the coverage of the comet impact into Jupiter a few years ago, and Mars events. During these press conferences you can identify the reporters and see who asks the really smart questions, and who is really paying attention. Alan Boyle does very well. I met him in New Mexico in June 2015. I made it a bit easy for him to interview me at the unveiling because I was walking near him and said hello.
Dodo: Yes, and it think it is very nice to be part of the Virgin Galactic project from a different view. So what does space mean to you?
Ron: Space for me is uncomprehensibly vast, and large in a way that our minds are not programmed to understand. The scale and the distance of it are beyond what we think about or experience here on Earth. Space is a very nasty environment, a very dangerous place for humans that can kill you in any number of ways. It is dangerous in the short term because of lack of air, the changes in and extremes of heat, and the velocities traveled; in the long term,radiation is a very serious risk. Long term weightlessness affects your bones, your blood and many body systems.
However, visiting space is incredibly transformative for people, transformative in a way that nothing else is for people who visited and looked back at the Earth. It can flip your mindset completely in the way you see life on Earth, how you see the reality of the cosmos.
Dodo: Do you remember the first time of your life when you wanted to go up to space or you started to fantasise about it?
Ron: Not any specific time, but always when I was a child I looked up to the stars and the night sky with fascination. I wondered what is out there, what I was seeing.
Dodo: So it was always part of you, but did you not have any motivation from your parents or somebody?
Ron: I had excellent support of my interests from my parents. On a trip to Morrison Planetarium at the San Francisco Academy of Sciences when I was about seven or eight years old, I picked out a book: The Golden Nature Guide to the Stars.
I loved the illustrations and how they used to explain the stars, constellations through different shapes.
Dodo: And you kept this book ever since with you.
Ron: Yes . It is a nice memory. Every page here it takes me back to my childhood. After living in our old house for 23 years, we moved to a new place, and I rediscovered this book and keep it nearby as a fun reminder.
Dodo: I read that you teach children astronomy, so this book and your childhood memory is maybe related to it? How does this fascination come to you to involve children as well to take care of their fascination for the space? Why do you think it is so important for them to know about it?
Ron: Those are good questions related to my work with students, thanks. I always enjoyed spending time with students. I did not really discover that until I was about thirty years old, after I built a telescope with John Dobson, and began bringing the telescope to schools. John is the inventor of a method of building telescopes inexpensively, and now these types are known as Dobsonian telescopes. He was an incredibly inspiring person. I still have that telescope right here. He taught classes annually in San Francisco for many years. It was a nine week class, and you spend most of the time grinding the mirror. So I signed up and I built a telescope. Soon after I joined the San Francisco Amateur Astronomers and I started to focus more spare time on learning astronomy and gaining a deeper understanding.
I found much enjoyment in talking to people, especially students, about the night sky, and what we can see through the telescopes. Not long after that I found a program called Project Astro, which had just started its second year in San Francisco through the Astronomical Society of the Pacific, a long time educational and professional organisation. In Project Astro, professional and amateur astronomers are placed into partnerships with teachers who want to help teaching astronomy. Over the years I had a series of teacher partners, where I started to develop my work with classes. I really loved it and it was an easy thing for me to do.
I also coached youth soccer for eight years, overlapping with work as a Boy Scout leader for eight years, and I coached a high school Ultimate Frisbee team for about ten years.
I feel it’s very important for students to have an understanding of how our planet functions in space and in the Solar System.
Dodo: Yes, I see this is a very important mission for you from your bottom of your heart. It raises the question that the next generation is growing up on entertainment and reality shows and they hardly even know about the great achievers, discoverers of our times. How do you consider the appreciation of the astronauts in today’s world?
Ron: Yes, students are caught up with celebrities and shopping, and so much of what happens on television is related to commercials. I strongly disagree with the whole marketing approach of “yes, you should buy this” or “yes, you should have this”, “this person is wearing this, you should also have this, so buy that product too”. I think it takes them away of seeing the natural world. I love new things too, I just feel that there is not enough attention paid to the Earth as a planet and the realisation of the problems of it. There is a great understanding and a great passion for the planet, and I think we are seeing more and more of that. That is also part of the motivation for what I am doing together with Galactic Unite and Virgin Galactic.
This is a great opportunity, there are many people involved now. You know, in my generation we were inspired by Apollo and those first trips to the Moon, and I think Virgin Galactic can have their own “Apollo era” kind of inspiration for the students now, as the first private citizens get to go to space. I think it is important to spread the word and to tell children that “Hey, this is happening” and they personally can be involved in it.
One of my favourite things is to tell students in our Google Hangouts is that there are hundreds of us who are paying a good amount of money to go to space for 5 minutes, but we would love to go into orbit – so maybe you could build us a space hotel! Truthfully, realistically, those things will happen.
Many private companies know that there are people who will pay to go to space. Virgin Galactic is actually not trying to sell more tickets, because they proven that market to exist. When people start flying into space and leaving the Earth like that, many others will want to go. It is very exciting.
Dodo: Would you send your children to space to experience it if it was possible? And if yes, then why do you think it is important for them?
Ron: Of course, for sure if they want to.
Dodo: Are they interested in general? How do they look at this?
Ron: Yes, they grew up with a lot of my space interests, however they are not ready to buy a ticket. In 10-15 years, I expect it will be much less expensive for them.
My daughter was at a Virgin Galactic get together for the customers a couple of years ago. After being introduced to Richard Branson, he joked with her: “Hey, do you want your dad back?” and she was shocked “What do you mean want my dad back? Why my dad might not come back?” Richard certainly surprised her. It was very funny.
Dodo: Well, I think when you will go up and eventually your day of experience will come, you will definitely bring them with yourself into the excitement and experience.
Ron: I am sure they will want to go to New Mexico to see my flight. Virgin Galactic has many people who are preparing that experience for the astronauts. They have put a lot of thought into “What do you want to do the day before you fly?”. They are thinking, for example, about the six people of the crew, they might want to have quiet accommodations, where they can think about what’s coming up, and be prepared without a lot of distractions. And they will celebrate afterwards.
And they are expecting that all of these people will bring friends and families. So Virgin Galactic is already thinking about what are they going to do with these dozens of people. Where will they stay, where will they eat, what kind of activities will they do. They will not just sit around the pool at the hotel for three days. There is lots to do in New Mexico.
Dodo: Do you go there a lot of times?
Ron: Yes, I have been to New Mexico a few times. There is a lot of interesting space-related history there. The very first picture of Earth ever taken from space was from a rocket launched in White Sands, New Mexico, right next to a Spaceport. It was in 1946, from a German V2 rocket from World War II.
Dodo: You mention that you have always felt to be a student of astronomy, what attracted you most of the space to feel this way? And do you still feel to be a student? Because it seems you are continuously learning. What do you think why are you so attracted to space, not just amazed but inspired because it seems you are more into it in terms of knowledge?
Ron: I think it is just my nature, being curious and keen to learn. I spend a lot of time on the Internet, finding out new things, researching new things. I just finished a great audio book about the X-15 research aircraft. It was a rocket powered glider, just like SpaceShipTwo. It flew 199 research flights between 1958 and 1968, and one pilot went to space twice with the X-15. It flew out to space from the Edwards Air Force Base in the Mojave Desert, where Virgin Galactic is testing and building SpaceShipTwo.
Dodo: Did you meet with astronauts in person?
Ron: Yes, a few times. I spoke with Al Worden at an event last August. He went to the Moon on
Apollo 15, but he did not land. Very interesting guy.
I’ve also met Yvonne Cagle, she has been a NASA astronaut for a long time. She has a really wonderful attitude and has been very helpful to me since then.
Dodo: What do you think what is similar between you and them despite the fact that you all are fascinated by space?
Ron: All the astronauts I have talked with, like with Rusty Schweickart from Apollo 9 and Shuttle astronauts Hoot Gibson and Rhea Seddon, exist on what I perceive as a higher level of understanding of the world. Ron Garan is especially astute, very kind to people, and focused on having a long term view of our planet; you can tell it just by speaking with him. He has a particular kind of view of things, and an understanding way about him.
Dodo: What I found very interesting is that he is very rational and of course an engineer you know, a person who is more into the scientific world and yet very aware and consciousness on what is going on inside. So he is not just about this is what I see and that is it and this is what I have to do. But he is aware of life itself. And he has this message in a very clear and simple way.
Ron: And, importantly, in a positive way. I get the sense that he does not often get bogged down with minor irritations. I think we both share a common purpose.
Dodo: It is fascinating to know that you are a jazz drummer, is this passion of yours equally strong to that of the space?
Ron: Drumming for me now is more of a hobby. I worked a lot with that from 2007 until 2013. I have loved playing drums since I was a kid. I played with drum sticks on my bed and pillows when I was young, imitating as if I played a real drum kit. I think it is not uncommon that people who are interested in astronomy have interest or talent in music and math. I think there is a certain kind of mind that works well in across those fields. I play small scale live gigs two or three times per month now, and I am not anywhere near to being a professional musician.
Drumming is inspiring because there can never be an end to what you learn. My long time teacher, Alan Hall at the California Jazz Conservatory, said to me that you can be learning drum techniques to the end of your life, and you will never get everything. That is humbling for sure, but it is also inspiring that I can always be learning something fresh and new.
Dodo: Could you imagine performing once in a spaceship?
Ron: I think that would be fun. Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield just released a CD recorded on the International Space Station. He had help with people from the ground, including his son.
There have been astronauts bands, too. Max Q have been around for maybe 25 years. Cady Coleman played the flute while in orbit.
Many Russian cosmonauts have played guitar on the International Space Station.
Playing a drum kit while weightless would be difficult. A hand drum like a djembe or conga would work.
Dodo: Is there any special song that reminds you of the space? And if yes, then what is it?
Ron: Yes, for sure. There is an album by Brian Eno called “Apollo: Atmospheres and Soundtracks”. There are two songs in particular from that, one is called “Drift” and the other is called “An Ending (Ascent)”. Quiet and contemplative, I listen to a lot of ambient music like that.
Dodo: Do you think there is any connection between the outward space and the inner space we have as humans?
Ron: You have some metaphysical questions. I tend to see things more as they are, in a very concrete way. I am not religious at all. I tend to think more in the way of how we can see and feel in person, and not so much for the more abstract things.
I think certain people connect with the Universe through what they see in the sky. They have that curiosity about it. It is human nature to want to explore. You can see that in the writings of Carl Sagan.
The idea of explorers was highlighted in a outstanding short video you can find on YouTube called”Wanderers”, using words spoken by Carl Sagan. I have shared that with teachers and students. Carl Sagan has spoken about how humans are explorers who are filling a need, an instinct, and it serves the survival of the species, wanting to know what is on the other side of the hill, what is across the Ocean or now what is in space.There is an innate need to want to go to see new things. I guess I would say there is a connection between inner space and outer space that is hard to identify.
Dodo: Was the fascination and eagerness to discover space different in the 60’s than it is today?
Ron: Seems like there is, yes. In the 60’s, the Moon race happened because of the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union. It was very much militaristically motivated. The early Mercury astronauts launched rockets that were created as ballistic missiles. The rockets were not created initially for manned space flights, they were to deliver nuclear bombs across the ocean. But I think the fascination by the public came along with the motivation of the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo missions. These programs came together, but the fascination grew out of it at an unexpected level. Maybe it was expected by some people, but not by others.
Today, interest in space is very strong. I think there is still a cachet, a very strong cachet, in being an astronaut. Students in school are very excited if they find out “Oh, an astronaut is coming…”
In our Google Hangouts or video chats, where we meet with students as young as six or seven years old, we see that they have a clear picture in their mind that it is really special to be an astronaut. Life in space is difficult, going to the bathroom is different, and eating is different, sleeping is different. So it is a bit curious, because even while there are so many distractions for kids, so many different things going on with media, smart phones and computers now, kids know about the astronauts at a very young age.
Dodo: What was the point when you decided to sign up to Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo as an astronaut? And what inspired you most to do so?
Ron: I was watching space-related news closely when the SpaceShip One program was approaching success, as part of the XPRIZE. There is an interesting back story of that, involving Peter Diamandis. He became aware of how Charles Lindbergh crossed the Atlantic in 1927 because of a 25.000 USD prize, which was offered in 1919 by French hotelier Raymond Orteig, for the first person to fly solo nonstop between New York and Paris. If this Orteig Prize had not been offered, where would space travel be now? So Charles Lindbergh says “Yeah, I want to win this prize, cross the Atlantic, and make history”.
Peter Diamandis heard this story and thought it was a great way to get commercial space flights going. No one was taking private citizens to space, so let’s inspire the private space industry by creating a prize. At first it was just called the “X” prize. The method is “Revolution through Competition” and their slogan is “Making the Impossible Possible”.
Diamandis came up with the idea in 1996, formed a committee, and got financial backing from the Ansari family, creating the Ansari XPRIZE.It was a 10 million USD cash prize for the first private company to fly to space twice within two weeks carrying with it at least three humans.
Many people and organisations worked on this project, and Burt Rutan and his company Scaled Composites won the prize, with financial support form Paul Allen. Burt was at the SpaceShipTwo Unity launch event with us in Mojave in February. His design made Virgin Galactic space travel possible. When Rutan and Scaled won the Ansari XPRIZE in October 2004, they flew the same spacecraft with one pilot and ballast for two people. That was SpaceShipOne. That spacecraft is now in the Milestones of Flight Gallery at Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in Washington, next to the Wright Flyer, Chuck Yeager’s Bell X-1, and the Apollo 11 Command Module.
With the success of SpaceShip One, Branson partnered with Rutan to create a bigger version of SpaceShip One, called SpaceShipTwo, to start offering commercial flights for paying customers.
Seeing the success in 2004 and following the Virgin Galactic website afterwards, I thought I would love to do that. I felt I could manage buying a ticket, but I wanted to see a few years progress before committing.
In 2010 I contacted David Clark, who was selling the tickets at that time, and a month later I was signed up.
Dodo: But it is interesting how it developed, how it found you. How do you prepare yourself for the trip, do you have any special training to undergo?
Ron: Yes, preparation is going on in a few ways. For one, we can work now to be in better fitness. Second, there are a couple of recommended things, but at this point not specifically required: you can go on a Zero-G flight to experience weightlessness, and you can visit a centrifuge facility in Philadelphia, where you can experience the gravity forces exactly as you will feel them in flight.
As the spaceship is going forward on rocket power, you get G-forces in the X direction, through your chest, from front to back. As you turn up, you get G-forces in the Z direction, from head to toe, which could drain blood out from your head, which could cause you to pass out. In the centerfuge training, we can learn how to minimize that.
Lastly, just prior to flying, we have three days of training in New Mexico. We will learn how to get in and out of the spacecraft, how to unclip from our seats and to float around, how to get back into the seats, learn emergency procedures and other things.
In another way, the preparation for the flight can start right now. The more fit you are the better your experience will be. Virgin Galactic had a webinar some time ago, and a person asked “if I lose ten pounds, will we go higher?” and the answer is “Yes!”. That is a good motivation to be fit.
Importantly, we have Galactic Unite, a group of Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts, working since 2011 to inspire students and provide educational opportunities. Many Future Astronauts have created scholarships. Right now there are 12-15 students at colleges and universities pursuing degrees with help from Galactic Unite astronauts.
My personal passion is using Google Hangouts to connect Future Astronauts and Virgin Galactic employees with classrooms around the world. From December 2013 to March 2016, we have had nearly 50 different Virgin Galactic Future Astronauts and employees in 80 Hangouts (live video conferences) with over 4,300 students from 155 different classrooms in 21 different U.S. states.
Our format for these Hangouts is a short 5-10 minute presentation by the Virgin Galactic employee highlighting their role in the company, then 45-50 minutes of Q&A with the students. This method assures that all of the content is relevant to the students.
It has been extremely rewarding for all of us that are involved, and highly inspirational for the students.
Dodo: Yes, it is much more personal in this way for them.
Ron: Yes, and it is also very interesting for the people who work for Virgin Galactic, because they
get to know more about their customers.
Dodo: You do this only in America, right?
Ron: No, not at all. We do this world-wide. So far we had seven different countries: Kuwait, Argentina, Colombia, Canada, United Kingdom, Spain, and the U.S.. There is tremendous potential for all these people, who will be the first to fly to space from their countries, to reach students of their country, and to be an inspiration for them. Virgin Galactic is also focused on that. They want our experience to be more than just a “thrill-ride” for two hours. They want it to make it much larger, and that is one of the really great things about having all these people going to space. It is like what Ron Garan talks about in The Orbital Perspective, it will change the way how people think about Earth. The purpose is to work together to change the world for good.
Dodo: Yes and without even going out to the orbit yet, you already know this. So there must be something in it. It seems you are feeling it already, your are doing it now, you are joining people together without even being out. So I guess it is already a great experience of it.
Do you have any special dream related to the space?
Ron: I guess not like a sleeping dream but more a hope. I would love to see that more people realise that we are on a spaceship together, Spaceship Earth, and that we need to make this planet as healthy as possible to have long term survival of our species.There is tremendous potential for commercial space to bring positive change to the world.
Dodo: Do you have any fears related to the space or your space trip?
Ron: I would not say fears. I am sure it will be exciting, and of course I understand there is risk. Obviously seeing the first spaceship crash like it did gave pause for thought, but I think Virgin Galactic has a great understanding on what is going on. I talked to a woman who is a rocket engineer for Virgin Galactic, a young woman, and she is much more intimately knowledgable of the rocket . She said she would jump into it in a minute, she had no hesitancy about going out for a flight. I made my commitment and I want to go when Virgin Galactic is ready. So when they are ready I will be there. I have made that decision.
Dodo: What does energy mean to you?
Ron: Ah, another metaphysical type of question. I think of it with more of an engineering type of approach. The difficult thing about flying to space is adding all the kinetic energy, or energy of motion, that is needed to get the spaceship from a stopped position on the ground and into space. Then you must remove all that energy to get it back down to the ground and stopped. It is an extremely complex equation.
Dodo: So this power is what energy means to you?
Ron: I see energy more in these kind of terms. I do not see it really as the connectivity or something like that. Not related to people. I see people more like in an independent way. I do not see energy connecting people, animals and plants and that it is planned as a life force.
Dodo: What is your favourite colour and what does it mean for you?
Ron: It is probably navy blue.
Dodo: Does it have a special meaning for you?
Ron: Maybe in the way it connects the natural world. Blue sky, blue water, blue ocean.
Dodo: how does the competition with commercial space travel affect traditional space travel?
Ron: I think it is great. It is definitely a competition. Virgin Galactic, XCOR and Blue Origin all want to be the first to take people in space. But I do not see this so much as a battle between them, where these is only one winner. One great thing about the space industry is that the players all realise how difficult it is, and that they are on the same team in certain ways, trying to accomplish the same goal. When Virgin Galactic had its accident they got a lot of support from the people of the other companies. You can see this in the online messages.“Yes, we believe in what you are doing, continue pushing forward!” “Yes, we know it is hard.” While they are not going to share their rocket formula, there is a respect and admiration between the companies and support for what they are doing. I do not think that, unlike a lot of other things, there is a hope that the other company fails. There is generally a hope that the other company succeeds, because in a certain way, it is a common goal for all of them. All those trips to space for private citizens will be a different experience.
Dodo: How do you think this will affect human achievement, researches, discoveries?
Ron: I think it will have great effect. I think the realisation of a dream is coming up for people that I can go buy a ticket to go to space. And yes, it is expensive, it is 250.000 USD now to buy a ticket with Virgin Galactic, but many people spend that much money on a very expensive car. Perhaps in 15 or 20 years, for the next generation, a space ticket will be expensive as a moderately priced car, or less. By having these private companies operating commercial flights, and having NASA contract with companies like Space X and Orbital Sciences to taking cargo to the Space Station, NASA has more freedom to pursue big things like going to the Moon, going to an asteroid, or taking humans to Mars.
The commercial companies help with certain things that NASA used to do, and NASA can undertake the larger, more complex projects they are so good at.
Dodo: Without having been yet out in space what is your most beautiful image of it?
Ron: Probably the picture that the Apollo 17 astronauts brought back, looking at the full Earth. But not so much seeing it as a fixed image but seeing it as a moving or dynamic image over time, where you can sense the motion of the orbital revolution and rotation. Seeing cloud patterns moving, and seeing the light change. It would be fantastic to see it.
Dodo: Do you think your view of life and life purpose will change after your experience of being in space? Already it has changed as I can imagine.
Ron: Yes, I think you are getting that sense. I expect to come back with a kind of different view in some way. I am very passionate about it. I am really embracing the whole idea of what is called The Overview Effect, which describes how people who have been in space have changed their outlook and way of thinking. As extension to that, Ron Garan advocates that you do not have to be in space to have an Orbital Perspective. I am aligning with that quite strongly.
Dodo: And you are also spreading it and I think it is more important that you are not just doing it for yourself but you feel in a way responsible to share this with others. That can be something that changed you by which you automatically want others to know about it. This is your path and calling. It just comes from within you.
Ron: There is another more personal motivation for me – I was fortunate to have been adopted before I was born by wonderful and loving parents, who were dedicated to their jobs and instilled in me a solid work ethic. My grandparents were immigrants from Italy; one of my grandfathers was a farmer, the other a garbage collector. My father started a construction business in San Francisco in 1952 with $438 USD, and after building on what he and my mother started, I will travel to space. I feel that I am lucky to be in the situation I am in, and I should do what I can to give back, and help the world to be a better place. That is an element of my motivation.
Dodo: It is interesting that you have an overall, universal aim but you also have a deeply personal motivation as well. I believe it is very important.
We truly appreciate sharing your experiences, thoughts and feelings through this YOUniverse interview. What was your main inspiration to share your experiences with us?
Ron: I would like more people to be aware of Earth as our planet floating through space.
In the short term, there is no survival reason for you to need to know what is going on up in space. But in the long term, we humans need to be aware of how we are changing this planet. John Dobson, the telescope teacher, would say “there is an infestation of people on this planet”. This stuck with me, and we need to realise that we are all floating in space together. We are all crew on a spaceship. Not passengers, but crew. Everyone needs to be aware and active. I identify directly with Ron Garan’s message that lot of today’s problems, serious problems, come because of the lack of effective global co-operation. I think we could help ourselves a lot by improving cooperation within countries and especially between countries. I feel that I am in a great position to able to help, with having time outside my work, having lifelong interest in aerospace, with having the opportunity to buy a ticket with Virgin Galactic, and of course to have the time to organise these video hangouts and to meet with other people to talk to students about having an elevated view of the world.
Dodo: If you would have the chance to form a message for the future generation, what would it be?
Ron: Personally, what I would say is to be curious, aim to be always learning, and pursue your passions.
There are some thoughts from Carl Sagan and Professor Stephen Hawking that are profound and especially meaningful to me:
Carl Sagan, from Pale Blue Dot, about a view of Earth from beyond Neptune’s orbit:
“There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we’ve ever known.”
Professor Stephen Hawking, from the rollout ceremony for VSS Unity:
We are entering a new space age and I hope, this will help to create a new unity. Space exploration has already been a great unifier – we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth. Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them and us to look both outwards and back, but with a fresh perspective in both directions. It will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards, and it will help us to recognize our place and our future in the cosmos – which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies.