Transcript: Space4U podcast, Alan Ladwig, Pt. 2

Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team

Hello. I am Colleen Kiernan 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. This podcast completes our prior episode, a conversation with Space Foundation’s Rich Cooper and Alan Ladwig, author “See You in Orbit: Our Dreams of Spaceflight.”

We now continue Alan’s story beginning with the role of Russia in human spaceflight. We usually think of Americans as the innovators of all things commercial, but what role do the Russians play in the history of civilian space flight? The Russians actually play a very big role in the overall history of space tourism.


If it hadn’t been for them flying. Commercial astronauts to the space station. We might all still be waiting for that first, uh, milestone to occur in 1999. American space entrepreneurs, Walt Anderson, Rick Tomlinson, and Jeffrey Manber formed mere core as a, these are Americans that help form a commercial arm for the Russian space program to do things.


On the Mir space station, which had been an orbit for many, many years, but it was ending, it was going towards the end of its useful life. And there was a push by America to have Russia, deorbit mirror, however, mirror core instead pushed to let commercial activities happen on the space station. And they set up a number of things that could be done.


And one of the things they were going to do was to fly a civilian to mirror. And Dennis Tito, the American entrepreneur, uh, was the one who came forward and deposit the money that would be necessary. And I was informed last week that he, he came up with a figure of $12 million that he could pay. And that’s what Russia’s charged him.


However, Eventually Russians were pressured to have mere deorbit and there went Tito’s chance. He instead talk with Jeff Mann bear who encourage R K K energy. Uh, the company that was running the sayings for Russia to let him to let t-to fly on a Soyuz launch to the international space station when that came around.


So in 2001, Tito got his chance at great opposition from NASA and from the European space agency, uh, NASA international space station manager, Tommy Holloway had complained at the time that there was little that they could do to prevent Tito’s flight beyond pressuring NASA, Russia to reconsider. And the European space agency said Russia had no right to send amateurs to the orbital complex.


Until it’s safely at, till it’s safety and security, we’re fully assured. And that would have always been a debate about, well, when is that? She, but man bear was persistent too is persistent. And despite all the naysayers, he eventually flew and became the first, uh, commercial person to fly to the international space station.


He was then followed by, uh, others over the next several years. And they paid anywhere up to 40 million, $45 million for that opportunity. But then at the end of the shuttle program with no with the Americans having no way to get its astronauts to the space station. They had to rely on the Russians. So the Russian then decided to end their commercial space program for, uh, commercial flyers to go to the moon, to the international space station.


And so those seats instead to NASA, now that NASA can rely or will soon rely on space X and Boeing to get astronauts to the space station, the Russians could very well revive their commercial astronaut program. So, is it worth $45 million to fly? Well, it was worth it to the people that went. And one of the gentlemen who had gone up actually flew, uh, twice Charles send me one, the Hungarian American computer executive.


So he certainly thought it was worth going. And there must be enough people that want to spend this money. And I think marketing studies have been done because there are no less than four. Companies now that are looking into creating, uh, orbiting space stations that commercial people can come to. And is there enough of a market for four separate facilities?


I don’t know. Uh, but they’re all claiming some of them think they can start bringing people up as early as 2022, 2023. And we’ll see what happens over the next few years. It all gets down to the cost of orbit. The $45 million is not for being in space. It’s for the transportation to get to space. And even NASA now has finally reversed its opposition to having.


Private individuals on the space station. And earlier this year announced that they would allow commercial people to come to the space station for whatever purpose, be it for science, for business, for, for whatever reason they wanted to come, they would have to pay $34,000 a night, uh, which was to cover oxygen food using the bathroom Wifi. What have you.


But that is just the, that was the, the cost per night to be on the station. You still have to get there. So how are the people going to get to the space station? I guess either with a spaceX, which has said their price would probably be in the $55 million range, Boeing. S initially said their price was going to be about the same, but a recent government accountability office report said they might have to charge as much as $93 million.


I don’t know what, how that’s all gonna play out. Or I guess people could go and fly with the Soyuz, uh, and that could be in the $45 million range. So it, it still remains an expensive undertaking. This is not the way the majority of us are going to fulfill the dream to fly. Uh, if you have to pay that kind of money.


So what role should regular citizens play in space flight and why is it important for them to get there? Well, the, the new phrase that I hear a lot these days is the democratization of space. And that means that we want space to be a environment that is experienced by a wider range of people, not just scientists, engineers, not trained astronauts and cosmonauts.


But people from all walks of life, because that’s really, the space is just an extension of who we are is from the environment on earth, into a, uh, into a system. That’ll eventually be what Eli must call as a multi planet species. So, if you’re going to do that, you want people from all walks of life and that will only happen.


If you can finally get the elusive dream of the cost to orbit, to come down to a level that people can actually afford. And this has been the consistent firewall all through the dream that people have had to fly. It just is simply too expensive. And even back in the early sixties, when max Hunter. With McDonald was talking about a $1 a pound, uh, capability that would be brought to us.


Thanks to a nuclear engine or Arthur C. Clark saying a year before the Apollo 11 landing. That soon you would be able to have flights to the moon is inexpensive as flying around the earth. There are always, these visionaries always see people saying what could be done, but the reality was the cost was not brought down.


Even the space shuttle. The reason people got so excited about the space shuttle was initially they said, well, that’s going to fly 60 times a year. And it it’s only going to cost. $50 a pound, a senior NASA official said that he said it might even be $25 a pound, that they would be exporting shuttles to other countries at a cost of 50 million each.


Well, those of course are things that never happen. And also when they were saying it was 60 flights a year, they were saying that a flight would only need three astronauts. Well, that certainly. Was not the case for very long and soon it was seven astronauts that were needed, but they said with just three astronauts, you’d have four seats for passengers.


Well, those are the dreams that never quite got realized. So here we are today. The dream still exists. Yes. More people are going to get to go, but they are very wealthy people. There is some hope for people, not of wealth and it won’t be very many. But certainly there will be commercial companies that will come forward and offer a flight into space beginning with suborbital flights, maybe someday orbital flight as a prize for some kind of competition.


Those things have already happened. Virgin galactic had a, an agreement with a Volvo. They also had an agreement with land Rover. Where they had competitions and the prize was going to be a suborbital flight. The Seattle space needle did a competition to S to commemorate their 50th anniversary. 50,000 people applied for a one seat on a suborbital flight.


It turned out to be with a company that never was able to offer the flight, so that went away. But I believe in the future, you will see commercial companies stepped forward and. And rely on space as a incentive for people to get behind their brand or their product. So some people might get to fly that way.


And then there’s a new com a new organization now called space for humanity. And their goal is to send 10,000 people into space beginning with suborbital flights, eventually orbital flights, and then perhaps. Flights to the moon. And all you need to do is apply to be that person that gets to go, and then they will make the arrangements for your transportation.


And you just have to agree to come back and for a year afterwards, be an ambassador to talk about what it was like. And that certainly will be a broader range of citizens than your typical scientist or engineer as someone who’s worked in art. And worked with space flight. I’m curious as to, we certainly have had astronauts and, uh, uh, I’m thinking Alexa, laying off, I’m even thinking of astronaut Michael Collins who have become artists later in life.


Nicole’s got the coolest guy. Yes. You’ve got a number of people who, uh, Have a circle and being, I remiss in not mentioning Alan Bean as, uh, being a big fan of his work. Those persons brought, uh, went from us, the scientific community to the artistic community. I’m curious from someone who has worked so closely with the artistic community, what you think, the artist, what the artist is going to.


Transfer or translate to the scientist. I think it’ll be a different way of looking at things. NASA did have a S a space art program throughout the Apollo program and, uh, in, throughout the shuttle era. And that is where they gave a small stipend to artists that would come to a launch, would get to go behind the scenes.


We’d go on the shop floor of companies and interpret what they saw. And there were many famous artists that did that. Like Norman Rockwell, uh, Andy Warhol, uh, uh, Peter max and others. And there were other astronauts or other artists that weren’t as well known, but they created a great body of work. Of what they saw and how they could communicate that their view of the space program to the, uh, to the general public I, that program still exists, uh, to a certain extent you don’t hear about it as much anymore.


But the artists still want to go. We had one of the great proposals that I had received as we were thinking of the art, uh, artists and spaces. The third category was from an artist who proposed an entire, uh, idea to have a mission specialist as an artist. And. And that their so role would be only to draw or to paint or to communicate through music, through whatever their venue was of art.


Uh, they felt that that was something that should happen. So those kinds of things, uh, never quite made it during the shuttle era. I think we can look forward to that in the future, especially on the suborbital flights, I’m sure there’s many artists. That have already signed up and, uh, we’ll be participating in those flights.


Certainly entertainers are on the list that we’ve heard and they’re going to come back and talk about it. So we’ll continue to get a, uh, a non-science non-engineering view of things in the future. And as I said earlier, I really look forward to this potential of eight artists going along in a flight around the moon and seeing what they think when they come back.


Are the arts taken seriously by the space community? I, I, yeah, I think it’s probably a mixed bag. I think there’s some people that do, uh, one of the unknown stories of the space program, uh, was the first art object that flew on the space shuttle. And that was flown under another program. I manage the non-scientific payload program and an artist, uh, Lowery Burgess.


Who was then at Boston university later at Carnegie Mellon, uh, came up with an art concept to fly a one inch cube that had a hologram that included water that had been distilled from 18 rivers of the world that he had distilled on a solar cooker in the grand Canyon. I mean, it was one esoteric piece and it got approved because it basically didn’t take up any room.


And all he wanted to do was to fly that cube in the mid deck locker, the shuttle, have the astronauts, bring it out, take a picture of it, floating the astronauts, refuse to do it. And the Johnson space center, uh, people that control what was the timelines, wouldn’t let it be done. And it was because they were embarrassed.


They didn’t understand it. They didn’t want to do it. And fortunately, While the cube fluid space. We know we got a picture of it. So then, uh, as we evolved over time, I think it started to broaden a little bit. And then you’ve got astronauts such as Nicole Stott, who is an artist herself. And I think did do some art in space.


So it is starting to change a little bit. It’s a, I think it’s the reason there was opposition. It was fear of the unknown. They didn’t understand what the artist was trying to communicate. So I believe in the future, that will be less of an issue. And I look forward to more and more art being created as a result of space flight.


As you finished this book, what’s the biggest lesson you take away from a career, a better connecting the public. To space flight. I think it’s important to, uh, maintain and, and, and follow your dreams. Uh, we constantly hear about astronauts who applied some as many as 10 or 12 times before they were finally selected, but they never gave up.


Uh, the story I told earlier of Jerry stoves, who as a high school student wanted to fly, but he kept to his dream and sure enough, in the future, he’s going to be flying a suborbital flight. I think it’s important too, to have dreams, to strive for your dream and never give up. And I think the phrase I ended in the book with was aim high.


And dream big. And so keep, keep after those dreams. I think it’s very important. It’s a way to motivate yourself for something that is beyond your reach, something that expands your horizons, something that will make you a better person. And I think that’s what space flight is for many people. It’s how will they become a better person?


It’s what Barbara Marx Hubbard explained to me in 1970 as. The purpose of space should be to go up the next loop of the evolutionary spiral. It’s how we will become a higher level of consciousness. And we will start to look at things differently and from a higher level, certainly that’s what the overview effect that Frank White wrote about.


It’s what the orbital perspective that astronaut Ron Garan wrote about. And it’s, it’s why people want to go is to get that different perspective of earth. And to then come back and be a better person because of it. Last question, Alan would, you’ve had a career that span a lot of very important programs and come across a lot of important people.


What’s your proudest moment? I think the teacher in space program, uh, getting that off the ground, getting it through the opposition, that there was. Finding an external partner through the council of chief state school officer to help us run that, of collaborating with everybody within the agency to make it happen and what it did for all those teachers, those hundred and 14 teachers that were the state level winners continue to be space ambassadors to this day.


That was one of the genius things that Jim Beggs did at the first conference, where they came to DC for the. Judging process where on the first day he announced you’re all winners, you’re all going to be space ambassadors for NASA. And here we are 30 years later, and a lot of those teachers are still serving their role as space ambassadors.


I’m still in touch with many of them and they are still proud of being part of this program. I think it, it, we succeeded in elevating the role of teachers at that time. When teachers weren’t looked at very highly, I think it would be good to do something like that again, because I think it’s time that teachers get another boost.


And I hope through STEM initiatives and steam initiatives, we were able to do that for them. But I dedicated among other people. I dedicated the book to those 114 teachers and it is one of my proudest moments. They presented me with a plaque at the end of the conference. Uh, that gave me an A++.


And so, uh, I still hold that, uh, that is my most cherish award that I’ve ever received. Thank you, Alan, for your time here today, the book is called“See You in Orbit: Our Dreams of Spaceflight.” It is available on as well as at Ingram spark. And you can also see some of the spectacular artwork that Alan has created that is available at www.orbit Alan, it’s been a pleasure to spend some time here with us today. This is the Space4U podcast again from the Space Foundation where we always have space for you. Thank you.

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Space4U Podcast: Alan Ladwig – Author, Part Two