Transcript: Space4U podcast, Alan Mittelman

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. I am Carah Barbarick with the Space Foundation. And you’re listening to the Space4U podcast. Space4U is designed to tell the stories of the amazing people who make today’s space exploration possible. Today. We are joined by Alan Mittelman. Alan J. Mittelman is the founder, CEO and president of Sun Tiger, Inc.


Doing businesses as Eagle Eyes Optics, Sun Tiger manufacturers, the Eagle Eyes brand of sunglasses that are sold online in leading catalogs and by distributors worldwide. The Eagle Eyes line is comprised of hundreds of styles for every taste and for almost every light condition, including bright sunlight night driving low-light conditions, computer gaming office wear travel and occupational safety glasses.


Eagle Eyes, high performance eyewear was developed from original NASA optic technology. And as the only sunglass lens in the world to receive the lifetime certified space technology seal certified for their UVR and blue light protection. Eagle Eyes optics, unique origins it’s space transfer technology and its relationship to NASA also led to their induction into the prestigious Space Foundation Technology Hall of Fame.


Welcome today, Alan. Well, good morning, Carah. Good to get together with you. Yeah. Agreed. I’m really excited to chat today and get some more background on, on Eagle Eyes and hear your story. Let’s jump right in. You know, we talked a lot about Eagle Eyes’ background in the intro, but we didn’t really talk about you as much.


So let’s jump in there a little bit. And can you tell me, have you always been an entrepreneur? Well, I, I have, I, uh, I in my early years, worked for a couple of companies and I found that I just wasn’t as good as an employee, as I thought I could be an employer that I had ideas and desires that just didn’t seem to match up with the environments that I was in.


So in my late teens, I started my first automotive business. Wow in your late teens. So you, you started really young while I was in college. I started a retail business here in Santa Monica, California that eventually turned into an important business, took a trip over to Japan and started bringing in products from Japan, became the distributor for major lighting company.


And from there just one thing turned to another over to Germany, uh, the next year and started bringing in automotive products for racing. And that was my early life, multiple entrepreneurial pieces. When did you first then become connected to the sunglass world and kind of learn about this very cool technology behind your Eagle Eyes sunglasses.


Maybe there’s a little background there. If you don’t mind, I’d like to give you a little bit of that to kind of bring us forward. As I mentioned, this was in my early twenties. When I started a company called Midcom, the company was involved in automotive manufacturing and distribution of aerodynamic designs and high-performance products for Porsche, but an introduction by my patent attorney.


Represented to really ingenious physicist at jet propulsion laboratories led us to a nice working relationship on new automotive technologies. Shortly after I, uh, selling my, my automotive business in the late 1980s, I, I contacted the same businesses and they asked me if I cared to help them with their new company specializing in eye protection.


That’s when they really opened my eyes to a whole new technology that they’d created for protecting human sight while enhancing your vision. Did they accomplish this by selectively blocking ultraviolet and blue light radiation. So that was all new language to me, new theories. And after a while, I started getting much more involved.


And when they told me they’d fought patents for this revolutionary invention, I was sold as well. Let’s move forward. So I went on to work with them, to refine the patents. We thought additional patents utilizing the same NASA technology. And that’s really how it began. So really connected to your spirit of wanting to be inventive and creative, not being an employee.


Yes, it was, it was all new technology that I could see and it brought me into something that I never touched. And that was, that part was really exciting. What can we do? Where could we take this technology? So then you did take it and you ran with it, but how did you come up with the name Eagle Eye Optics.


The original JPL scientists that started the company, uh, used the name Sun Tiger. Although we still have that as our corporate name, that we changed the business name to utilize optics because, uh, after acquiring the trademark and expanding on our efforts and optics, we believe that equalize really more reflects our business model, which is ultimately a protection and condition enhancement for most.


All environments, both indoors and outdoors. So how has it connected to eagles? I think that’s the piece I’m most curious about the NASA scientists studied, uh, eagles and birds of prey. And I found that eagles possess special oil droplets that protect and enhance vision. They fly at extremely high altitudes and they have to search for their prey and really have precise vision.


They found that they’re not affected by ultraviolet or blue light or any of the vision distracting light. So they replicated this dye stuffs that are in the eagle’s eye into a lens. This all started for a very specific reason. Oh, tell me that. What was the very specific reason NASA’s JPL and Caltech investigated were charged with finding out the harmful properties of light, because astronauts are going to be working in space and SS.


They were going to be welding using lasers, and those light are very dangerous and it takes a very brief amount of time to damage the OD. And so they, they needed something that actually didn’t exist at that particular time. And what they came up with, was it the first revolutionary transparent Weldon curtain before that time, all welding curtains in the world were opaque.


You could not see through them. So if a welder was asleep at heart attack on fire, they couldn’t tell. Oh, you could see it as this blue flash coming above the welding environment. So they created this a transparent welding curtain. So you could see the astronauts while he was working. And the eyes of the astronauts within the capsule were protected as well, because they were not getting the dose of the heavy blue light as well.


So this was became the standard and it still is today. That’s amazing. You don’t even really think about that. And. What other professionals had to deal with before this was available? No, these NASA scientists physicists knew that radiational light was harmful to the human eye. They knew that welders needed very, very heavy protection here on earth.


So of course, being that there is no ozone and outer space, just mere protection from the sun is much more important. But again, working in space was a new effort. And so they needed to find ways to combat this. And when they came up with this particular technology, it opened up a new opportunity for working in space.


And how long ago was this? They worked from the late 70s to the 1980s to perfect this. And then this was when they were first leaving the capsules to do welding and laser work and other outside opportunities that they have while they were in space. So most likely a significant piece to the ability to build the international space station, that this was a big part, a very big part of, of what the technology was developed for.


So they had the immediate capability to do work and then be seen by other astronauts while they’re working for various reasons. Of course, one of which would be protecting. The astronaut that’s doing the work. Wow. We’re so impressed. Then you took that technology and put it in the sunglasses. So what health benefits are provided with your line of sunglasses?


All of our lenses were designed after this original NASA technology to one degree or another. Are utilized lenses provide maximum protection from the sun’s not only harmful ultraviolet rays, but also blue light, which is critical for our ability to see clearly this is because when light enters the eye, a series of events happened, which could either help hinder or even destroy our eyesight, which is just terrible.


And we’re exposed to so much more blue light now because of our electronics. So. You have a line of sunglasses, but you, you also have computer glasses. Yeah. Right. White light, Andrew light are emitted from computer screens, telephones, or cell phones and other electronic devices. And so we block all of the UV, but we selectively block a certain portion of the blue lie, which that causes the disturbance in the eye.


And that’s what provides not only protection, but also a better view and experience. Excellent. Can you tell us what the harmful factors are of the exposure to ultraviolet light? I think we’ve heard a long time about UV blocking and that, but I don’t think we as a general public really understand what it does to the eye.


Well, yes, the most common form of light damage is really related to ultraviolet exposure to go backwards. Hundreds of years ago, we lived in that agrarian society. Our heads were down, we were farming and we didn’t spend time looking up at the sun today. We make an active effort to get as much of that sunshine as we can.


We drive into the sun in the morning, we drive back at night, we’re outdoors, playing and recreationally looking to take advantage of the sun. So our exposure. Is extremely great. And that, that is the most common form of ID damage. That’s related to ultraviolet exposure cataracts, which caused the lens to the eye of the lens to cloud.


It loses its transparency. It leads to reduce vision. If it’s left, untreated blindness can occur. In fact, in the United States alone, it’s estimated the cataracts diminish the eyesight of millions of people at the expense of billions of dollars. And it’s a, it’s an ongoing process to educate and get people to do a very simple form of projection.


And that’s put good lens of protection on their eyes. Other forms of eye damage are directly attributable to ultraviolet light exposure. They include pterygiums, that’s a normal mass of tissue that arises from the inner corner of the eye. And skin cancer around the eyes, macular degeneration, which really damages the center of the eye and prevents people from seeing fine details.


There’s an easy way to stop this progression and these diseases, and it’s not expensive. And that’s. You can just have it, do that.


Yes, you’re absolutely correct. Good sunglasses, protective sunglasses. And one thing I was saying. It’s not mentioned enough is that there really isn’t Oh wow. Experience. When you put on a pair of legalized, they’re like nothing that anyone has ever worn before. And we have people wearing our glasses for 20, 25 years.


Now that come back and say, I still have my equalizer. This is the only glasses I’ll wear. Because when I drive, I can’t see anything properly unless I’m wearing them. So we never stopped enjoying the great comments that are given to us and in accolades for how people feel.


I can most certainly attest to that. I got my Eagle lie sunglasses about five years ago. And. I have multiple pairs, so I can have one that travels with me and, you know, one that’s in my outdoor recreation bag and a pair of my cars. I don’t ever want to be without them. There’s the Oh wow. Experience for sure.


My, my children would never wear sunglasses and it was actually my, my youngest son. His friends had a little band and they put them on and they started talking about to him. And that was when he was 14, 15 years old. And he’s worn them every day since. So I’m pleased that I felt I got my kids to do a good, good sunglasses.


Ah, that’s perfect. Of course a teenager would need their friends to convince them not their parents. I’ve even noticed that, you know, here in Colorado, when it’s snowing. That I will wear them. And that really helps I’m I don’t understand why that is, but I often put them on, in a snowstorm just to help with that clarification.


Well, when it snows, remember the sun is still up there and what it’s doing, it’s reflecting blue light. The retina has trouble focusing on that. So it blurs things out. So we put a, a guard, a special. Tincher into our lenses, that block, that blue light from having to enter the eye. And then that’s something you’ve probably noticed living in a mountainous area that you can take the glasses on and off, and you can see more precisely into the mountains, um, than you can without the glasses.


I I’ve been doing this for many, many years. I still enjoy doing that when I’m traveling. I get up in the morning and can actually see our mountains. And we did provide glasses years ago for search and rescue helicopter teams because they admitted that they did. Find that they work better than just any other glasses that it had on.


Wow. Mentioning that makes me want to jump into some of the other philanthropic work that you’ve done. You know, you, you have this wonderful background in science, but I feel like you work really hard to make sure that. Those who are in need of these sunglasses have them. So I, I would love for you to tell us the story about the time you went to Galena, Alaska, and kind of why you went to that specific location to take some sunglasses.


This was through an actual space foundation outreach program. Uh, we were fortunate enough to get involved. Uh, it was a very worthwhile effort. People asked, donated it’s UV light protected, polarized sunglasses to the high school in Galena, and they were delivered by members of the space foundation that presented by our former NASA astronaut Livingston, Boulder.


Took them there to give to the children in the Galena high school. Why was it specifically Galena? What makes Galena different than other places in the United States? Well, this was a real oddity and they wanted to conduct further studies through original ice studies in Galena. They found that the children and Galena have an incidence of cataracts.


There were 300 times greater in Alaska. Because of the sun’s reflection off of the snow. And just as we mentioned about the active effort we get to get into. So they unfortunately were being exposed to high doses of ultraviolet radiation because the snow was bouncing the light right directly into their eyes.


And so you were able to just change their worlds with one pair of sunglasses. It was really startling to find out there and eye opening, how dangerous and beautiful our son can be. I grew up and I did it. Unfortunately, I sat there with my friends in the sun as a kid, and I believe that only fortunately many, many years ago I started wearing protective sunglasses or my vision.


Wouldn’t be. As good as it is now and it still needs its work. So I think that teaching, teaching children, the benefits of proper eye protection at the earliest age, because children experiment, when my parents told me, don’t look at the sun, that was a green light to go and look at my hands and put in my eyes.


But I think if they understood the dangers. They wouldn’t be cavalier to doing something like that. Now, did they have the wow factor as well when they put their sunglasses on? Yes, absolutely. That was our standard last sunglass that we provide to general public. It was very high protection. It blocked all of the ultraviolet radiation and blue light up to 475 centimeters.


I got a report from, from Livingston that everything went well. They enjoyed wearing them for them. It was an exciting experience because it was comforting. There is a, an experience that’s had when you first put on a pair of legalize, it’s a comforting, a calming experience. And that’s because the eyes being competently in the areas that normally gets a harsh dose of light.


So it’s a visually enhancing lens yet. It’s a, this has a very calming effect. So glad you were able to do that, especially with an astronaut. How fun is that? That was really a great thing. I mean, we really, I would have loved to have gone up there, but it was nice to see that there, there was an opportunity to do some good.


Yes. And you take other opportunities to do good with the different partners. Can you tell us a little bit about how you work with military members? Sure. Well, in addition to our long fruitful relationship we’ve had with space foundation and we have, uh, we also continue to a great partnership with a group called operation gratitude.


They’ve done so much good for both active and retired military service members and their families. Even caregivers. And first responders offers you. Gratitude creates these amazing, very much needed, and certainly appreciate it. Personal care gift boxes. And there’s all kinds of essentials and useful products they put inside.


And they do this all through donations and generous community volunteerism today to actually they’ve deployed over 3 million of these packages and they sent them all over the world. It’s been a very successful program. It started out of one person’s garage. Uh, about three years ago, uh, Lieutenant Colonel, he became involved.


His name is Kevin Schmiegel and Kevin put to work about half a million inbound, uh, soldiers retired, uh, unemployed through a program where he got together, all the major corporations, the same people that we have in corporate partnership, chip Boeing and all these various companies. And they had career days throughout the country, out of that, about half a million.


Individuals were put to work in various different corporation. So he’s done a wonderful job. He’s a big-hearted guy, very humble. And that’s, what’s made it a great relationship for us. What is it that you so appreciate about operation gratitude? We worked with them for some years now. And, uh, they’ve allowed us to be part of their efforts.


And, uh, I’ll give you an example. We’ve become a partner with the honor flight network, which are retired airmen, air or women that are now in need of some real gratitude for their and appreciation for their efforts. A couple of years ago, we put together several thousand care boxes of our glasses with a lot of the other good products, wonderful products that were being distributed and set out.


That’s been a, just a rewarding experience for us that we know that they’re appreciated. It’s an emotional connection between the public. Those are sort of so greatly in our, and it’s apparent in the responses we received from recipients of these care packages. If you don’t mind, I’d like to just read something a quick dump from Rhonda was posted on the, on the website.


There she’s an 86 year old post Korean war veteran from Minnesota. And she wrote, I want to thank all the children, teachers, organizations, and individuals that donated the thoughtful letters and the other items in the care package in my care package. This is my favorite item, the awesome folding sunglasses.


So we, of course, Joyce is seeing that, that, that makes us feel good as well. That’s some of the reason why we’ve just had such good experience working with operation gratitude that I thought I would just bring it up at this time. Yes, I can see why you’re sharing with people who need the glasses and they can feel the gratitude that you’re sending their way.


That’s just a wonderful piece that you do and continue your philanthropic efforts. We’d like to be able to continue to do it even on a larger scale, but we do what we can. Exactly. I know that the pandemic has really transitioned a lot of people’s work environments and goals. What new pathway are you taking?


Given all the changes this last year? We were told to go home back in March of last year, without question there’s, there’s been instill our new challenges and how we operate and, or adjusting in a remote world business. That’s something that was not anticipated. One of the major, really new learning experiences we found is our ability to, to keep a cohesive group experience by having regular COVID friendly video meetings.


That’s really been at least a major change. We’ve find that also our business model is starting to change. We need to be much more in touch with clients, get the current needs and changes that are happening. The world’s becoming much more competitive because of internet sales and transparency. Even if a product is not substantively the same as let’s say what we sell people are, are really capable of creating great stories.


And so the buyers are confused as to why they should pay more or less for a product or whose story is better. So it requires us to step our game up and be much more focused on how we present ourselves and our reputation that stands for a great deal. We’ve been now doing this 30 years plus. And so that has given us.


Some leg up, but still every day we have to kind of recreate ourselves to make ourselves better and do a better job. People knowing your history and your connection to very solid science, I’m sure has to make a difference. It certainly helped. And certainly our relationship with space foundation and personally knowing how hard everyone works there for, for so many years, uh, we’ve watched, you know, your efforts.


Like increasing education and space for students and teachers that work that you do with young professionals and space professionals is an everyday effort. And yes, even entrepreneurs like me, we’ve all benefited by space foundation’s existence. And for that, I just want to really say thank you. Thank you very much.


It’s been a wonderful relationship. Everyone is based. Foundation has been always so generous and open with us and helpful. Couldn’t ask for a better relationship. It truly is our pleasure. It’s a joy to highlight your space connection and the importance of the work that you do as well. Well, thank you for giving me an opportunity to speak today.


It’s sometimes more comfortable when we’re face-to-face, but I’m enjoying this just as much. Well, good. So glad. And that concludes this episode of the Space Foundation’s Space4U podcast. You can subscribe to this podcast and leave us a review on Podbean, Apple Podcasts, and on Google Play. Remember to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and LinkedIn.


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Space4U Podcast: Alan Mittelman – Founder, CEO, and President of Eagle Eyes Optics