Shelli Brunswick Interview with Christina Korp, Co-Founder, SPACE for a Better World, and President, Purpose Entertainment
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello and welcome to another Space Foundation Space Commerce Entrepreneurial Interview. I’m Shelli Brunswick, the Chief Operating Officer at Space Foundation. Today, I have the privilege to talk with Christina Korp. She is an astronaut manager, space advisor, the co-founder of Space for a Better World and president of Purpose Entertainment. Well Christina, you have an amazing background. You started, you know, as a singer and then ran a media company for TV and radio personality John Tesh. You followed that by managing Apollo astronaut, Buzz Aldrin, and helped launch his educational foundations. You’ve led the last five galas at Kennedy Space Center celebrating Apollo 11, and the Webby winning, an Emmy nominated Cycling Pathways to Mars VR Experience. You support women in space issues and now you are the astronaut manager for Apollo 16 moonwalker, Charlie Duke, and NASA astronaut aquanaut, Nicole Stott. Amazing career! Welcome to our Space Commerce interview!
Thank you so much for having me! It’s an honor.
Well, I shared a little bit with our audience about your background but tell us a little bit about your company and what you’re doing and what are some of your goals for it?
Sure. After all of these years of hanging out with astronauts and being the fly on the wall of the Apollo astronauts’ lives, I realized that I had gained this perspective and this experience of hearing how the moon landings really changed a generation and the hearts of the generation. And so I thought, well it seems like my entertainment background and my media background was very successful with helping to elevate and raise awareness about space issues that Buzz Aldrin and his family were excited and trying to carry on for the future legacy. I thought if I could use that in a broader sense, especially to promote women’s issues and to promote the future of space, maybe I could use entertainment to try to draw attention to what’s going on in space but with purpose behind it – promoting education, inspiration, that sort of thing. So that’s what Purpose Entertainment is all about. And then Space for a Better World is about trying to draw awareness about all the ways that space actually benefits our planet, the people and the planet, with technologies and research and development, that maybe the mainstream world is not aware of.
That’s amazing! And now when we think about, I shared a little bit about your start. Can you share with our audience about your background and journey? I mean you started as a musician.
I always say to people: you could not have predicted the trajectory of my life as a kid in South Dakota, as one of ten children, from a very humble background to working with astronauts, especially Apollo astronauts. I am one of 10 kids– five girls, five boys from Rapid City, South Dakota and my dream was to become a rock star. I was in a family band growing up with my dad, my sister, my brothers. We were like the real-life Partridge family and after 10 years of doing that, I went to Los Angeles to pursue my last Rockstar dreams. And interestingly, I had a lot of success. I did get signed to Warner Brothers, I sang on Ringo Starr records, I was hanging out with Aerosmith and touring the world. But the music business is feast or famine, so eventually I went to work for John Tesh, a media entertainment personality and he took me under his wing and taught me how to run a media company. And I loved that job, but I was really killing myself at that job. So I eventually went to work for Buzz Aldrin to have, what I thought was, a quiet boring life.
Well, I’m sure working for Buzz Aldrin was not a quiet, boring life and I’m going to ask you about that in a minute. But how did you get started with your own company and the concept? Where did that come from?
Well, during my time running Tesh’s media company and then eventually running Buzz Aldrin’s company, you know, I gained a lot of valuable experience in those roles. And I gained a lot of really valuable contacts and my network grew, and I began to realize– as a woman in a leadership role or leading a company like this, I had an opportunity at some point to actually go off on my own and start my own company. Which is a really scary proposition for anybody, not just women, but especially for women. But I had a lot of people who were very supportive of that and thankfully the astronauts that I work with were also like “Go for it! You know how to do this.” So I decided to make the leap into running my own company. Unfortunately, it was right before the pandemic started. So it’s been… it’s been an interesting past year and a half, but thankfully things are going pretty well with zero gravity flights and events that we’re doing to promote space, so the future looks promising.
Fantastic! Well, we watch you and all the great projects you’re doing, and we’re going to ask you about those shortly. But you talked about John Tash and Buzz Aldrin– so who were some of the partners along the way? And how did they help you get to where you are today?
Well, one of the things that I noticed immediately when I started working for Buzz Aldrin, was how many people were so welcoming to me and would congratulate me for being invited into this world. And honestly, I have to admit for a long time I only thought of it as my job. And then the first time that I introduced Buzz Aldrin to Stephen Hawking for their first ever meeting– later that day, I met a Harvard professor who said to me, “You know what? You’re a part of history now. You need to take this seriously– this access and this insight that you have.” And so after that, I really started to pay more attention to this as more of a job, almost as more of a responsibility. Because I also became the fly on the wall of the lives– like I said, hearing these moon landing memories, so I became the keeper of the memories of people talking about how the Apollo missions inspired them to become engineers, or scientists, or teachers, or whatever. So honestly, it’s kind of the people that I met in the everyday, who really have inspired me to think “Wow! I could do something really amazing and inspiring with what I’ve learned from all of this.” And along the way people like Norma Augustine, previously the CEO of Lockheed Martin, has been so encouraging to me. And many of my friends who worked in the White House who were, you know, working in space policy. All of these people, along the way have kind of held my hand and led me to where I am now, doing what I’m doing now.
Amazing! That is an amazing journey. Now, it has been an interesting journey from, you know, signing and being a recording, you know, industry leader to an astronaut wrangler. What have been some of the biggest challenges along the way?
You know, one of the things that first of all, when I first started working for Buzz, I was like– I think many of the public– I didn’t know there was more than Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin who walked on the moon. I didn’t know there were 12 humans who walked on the moon. And I think I’m a pretty good indication of what the mainstream public thinks about space or at least especially the historic legacy of space. And so as I began to learn I realized, wow there’s a big awareness gap and there’s a challenge here to try to get people, especially young people, to care about what happened 50 years ago, even though it impacts their lives every day. You know people always say to me “what does space have to do with my life?” And meanwhile they’re using the cell phone that’s using satellites in orbit and technology that was developed for space. So sometimes, when I would go to mainstream partners, it was pretty hard to convince them that space had any relevancy to what they do. And many times, I realized, okay, maybe my perspective as a mainstream media person is giving some insight into this. So part of why Buzz started doing some really mainstream things was because I would say to him “let’s do this” so we can get the attention of young people and he’s say “oh, the other astronauts won’t like that.” And I’m like “Who cares? You don’t need to convince the other astronauts. You need to convince people like me, who love space but don’t know what’s going on in space.” So often times when we would try to raise money for the foundation, people just did not want to give money. There’s this perception that astronauts have a lot of money, and I’m always trying to remind people that they’re government employees, the ones who worked for NASA, they’re not rich people. And so even though they become very famous, they don’t necessarily have the resources that big companies do. Overtime, you know, having more and more meetings and having people see the inspiration of space has convinced some bigger companies to start coming aboard besides the aerospace companies. And that’s what I’m excited about– trying to welcome in more of those mainstream companies to see the value of space inspiration, especially for young people.
We completely agree with you here at Space Foundation because space is for all of us. So thank you for sharing that. What we’ll do is– we’re going to take a short break for some great insight on what’s happening at Space Foundation.
The Space Foundation Discovery Center: where engaging, interactive exhibits tell the story of space and its importance to everyday life, all in a safe clean and fun environment. Make new discoveries together at the Space Foundation Discovery Center, Colorado Springs.
Welcome back to our entrepreneurial interview with Christina Korp. So we finished on what were some of your biggest challenges over your career, but what are some of your biggest successes?
The biggest success, I guess there’s a few things that I’m pretty proud of– I mean I have gotten to sing in front of the biggest concert ever, was for 200,000 people in the Zocalo, Mexico City. And that was quite a sight to be able to see that. But I have to say since I’ve fallen into the space world, it’s really, there are a few things that I’ve done that I’m extremely proud of. First of all I’m not a teacher, I’m not a physicist scientist, an engineer, any of those things, but I’m a very visual person. And so I was came up with the giant Mars maps that the Aldrin Foundation uses, which is a 25 foot by 25 foot, topographical map of Mars, to teach kids about Mars while they’re standing, running playing, sitting on the surface of Mars. And the whole idea behind that was that I have little kids, I was a little kid, I think that making something interactive is really important like that. The Cycling Pathways to Mars VR experience, I’m so proud of that, because that was my way of trying to use mainstream media to try to make the vision–Buzz’s vision, for the future accessible and understandable for people. And I have had so many people come to me now and say, “I decided to go into the space industry because of that VR experience.” So if you haven’t experienced it, it’s on the Timeline PR pp for free, on Oculus, and HTC Vive. And then finally, you know, being a part of the Apollo anniversaries. You know those were big fundraisers for the Aldrin Foundation, but they were also a big celebration of this historic event. So the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11 was a big one in 2019, and I’m really proud of what we did with and the money we raised for the foundation. But I do have to say, I have a lot of satisfaction in that we were able to get Duran Duran to come and perform in the Rocket Garden for the 50th anniversary. That was one of the special highlights of my life, as a musician singer, to have one of my all time favorite bands be a part of this celebration with us.
That was amazing and I remember seeing you there. So you did a fantastic event and we look forward to celebrating you again soon, as we can all come back together in a year. But we did have a really exciting launch recently, we’ve had both Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin launch commercial space vehicles. What are your thoughts on that? And where do you see the future going?
So I am so excited to finally see space tourism, like true space tourism, happening. Obviously, people have been able to do zero gravity flights for awhile and even I recently got to do my first ever zero gravity flight, which honestly for the entryway into space tourism is an amazing experience and if you can do it, I can help you do it. But I’m excited because since I came into the space world about 13 years ago, I had been hearing Buzz and others talk about space tourism forever. And as a matter fact Buzz started this Sharespace Foundation in 1996, I believe, about space tourism and everybody thought he was crazy and it was like science fiction at that point. So to actually see it happening now though, for real, is super exciting. And I think the reason– and I was watching the Blue Origin coverage and hearing the commentators from the mainstream, like commentators from ABC News talking about this, and they were expressing the excitement that I feel watching this, which is rooting for humans to go to space– takes like space inspiration a whole different level. There, like watching a rocket launch anyway, is super exciting, but when you’re watching a rocket launch as humans aboard, it just takes it to a whole different emotional level that I think inspires us just within ourselves of what’s possible. So I am excited to see to where they start making this a regular thing and it happens often and lots of different people from lots of different walks of life are able to finally get to go to space. So I’m super optimistic about it I know a lot of people say, “oh this is a billionaire space race,” but honestly you know behind all of that are thousands of people who are employed by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin and the other space companies, who are super excited to be part of this. And then there’s all these science experiments that are going up within this. So this isn’t just like a joy ride for billionaires; it’s much, much more than that and so I’m really excited about the future and what it’s going to offer in the terms of space tourism.
Well thank you for sharing that because, you know, at the Space Foundation we are very passionate about both going out to space but also how does that help our ecosystem here on earth. So you really closed the loop by all the great things that that commercial launch is going to provide with experiments and student projects and things we can learn about microgravity environment, health.. so thank you for highlighting that. Which kind of brings us back to something you talked about a little earlier. Tell us about the importance of advocacy and awareness, especially for that space ecosystem.
Yeah. And this is why I do what I do. So I feel like I deal in the business of inspiration. You know, I keep saying everybody is fed information constantly, but sometimes people are forgetting about the inspiration and that’s where I feel like okay–what I do as a media, marketing, messaging type person can help make this accessible and exciting for people who maybe just don’t you know they can absorb the technical information. So I think in order to get more people excited about space, you have to grab their hearts and their emotions and make them excited in a way that we, as kids, just naturally feel. You know every kid is excited about space. It’s just a natural thing to look up moon and the stars. It is something that we share. So I feel like the critical piece here is to not forget the space marketing, the space messaging, the inspirational side, and especially the human element. It is really, really exciting. One thing Buzz used to say, which I really thought was funny but it’s totally accurate, is you know when people would get excited about hardware, he would say “I’ve never seen a ticker tape parade for a robot.” And the idea that it still always comes down to humans, and the human heart, human inspiration. So I think that that’s the critical key. If you want to get more people on board, you got to get them excited to be a part of it in some way.
Absolutely. Absolutely. Now during your span of your career, you know, you’ve had a lot of interesting careers from musician, and manager, and astronaut wrangler, and marketing– what are some of your lessons learned, you’d like to share with both our audience in general, but also our audience who want to become entrepreneurs and maybe following your footsteps?
So the biggest thing I think that a lot of people, and any entrepreneur knows this, is like you are often throwing a lot of things against the wall, trying to see what sticks. You come up with tons of ideas and of course all anybody ever sees is the things that become successful or the big failures. Meanwhile, there are lots of times you’re hearing lots of “Nos” and I don’t know if you’ve seen that show Ted Lasso on Apple TV, which it is an awesome show, about a coach who is totally out of his realm of being… going to coach UK soccer/football. He says a line which I love, which is “Be a goldfish.” Meaning that goldfish only have like a 5 second memory. So they forget, if something goes wrong they forget, then they’re happy again. And I like that; that’s a good analogy for: if you have a disappointment, if things don’t go the way that you want, shake it off and just move on and try to look forward. And that’s what I tried to do. You know, I’ve gotten to do a lot of amazing things, but along the way I’ve had a lot of things that didn’t go right either– a lot of disappointments. And especially, everybody understands this with past year, with the pandemic. So my advice would be to be, you know, first of all: try a lot of things, don’t be afraid to try something you’ve never done before, and especially don’t be afraid to ask for help. That’s one of the most valuable things that I’ve ever done, is to ask people for help who are in a position to help. Because more times than not, people want to help, they want to impart their wisdom or their expertise and help you along the way. So that’s one of the most valuable lessons. People sometimes– I think they have to project this image that they’re an expert all the time, and I think anybody in any position of success will tell you “No, no, somebody helped me along the way.” And so don’t be afraid to ask for help, don’t be afraid to try a lot of things, and keep trying over, and over, and over. even if you have some failures along the way.
Awesome. Now what kind of projects are you working on right now?
So I’ve got a couple of big things coming up. The more near-term thing is a project in Atlanta, on October 11th for International Day of the Girl. You know, because I work with astronauts, people will ask me lots of questions about astronauts. And something that happened, more in recent times, is I’ve had a lot of people say to me, “Has there ever been a black astronaut?” Which is just crazy to me that the awareness is so low, and not only that, but then “had there ever been a black female astronaut?” And of course Mae Jemison is the first African American woman in space, but I thought, “What if I could highlight a woman– who is a real astronaut, a real person, who is still an active astronaut, reaching higher, aiming higher for her dreams?” So I’m working with the city of Atlanta to put a giant Earthwork, which is a giant ecofriendly portrait, of NASA astronaut Stephanie Wilson. And I reached out to Stephanie to let her know that I wanted to do this. She was so excited and passionate about trying to inspire, especially young kids of color like her, and especially women and girls. So she’s going to participate in some form, probably virtually because she’s on the backup crew for Crew-3. But I can share with you a kind of a rendering of what we’re going to try to do, and that is to do this giant ecofriendly, it’s going to be a very interesting thing. I’m going to share it right now. This is just a rendering of trying to do a giant portrait, in Woodruff Fark, in downtown Atlanta. And this will be for International Day of the Girl and we will be having kids from the Atlanta Public City Schools coming. And during that whole week, we’ll be doing some STEM activities around the earth work. The previous week for World Space Week, we’ll be doing some virtual things into the Atlanta Public Schools, so having different discussions with Georgia Tech Subject Matter Experts, and some astronauts, and some different people throughout the space world– talking to the kids, showcasing for them all the opportunities that are available for them in space. So that’s really exciting and that’s the most near-term thing I’m doing. And then in November, on November 28th, I am doing another zero-gravity flight with Apollo 16 astronaut, Charlie Duke. I took Charlie on a zero-gravity flight back in May from the Kennedy Space Center– taking off from and landing on the space shuttle runway which, is very cool. Charlie was like, “This is the first time I’ve ever landed on this runway.” And then after we did our zero-gravity flight, he grabbed me and said, “You know, this is only the second time I’ve done zero-gravity in 50 years and I didn’t know that we were going up,” and then secondly, he said “That was fun! Let’s do that again!” So we’re doing it again on November 20th, at Kennedy Space Center. We still have a few spots left if somebody wants to come and join us. It’s a very special thing. We will do the zero-gravity flight, go see his launchpad while we’re on NASA property, and then we’ll have a private dinner with him that night. And that’s my way of again of trying to provide access for people to come and spend some time with a historic person like Charlie, and also hear his stories and hopefully be inspired to want to get more involved in the space world.
Well sounds fantastic! And I know we would have several volunteers here at the Space Foundation who’d love to take you up on that activity. I know one of the activities I’d like to do with you was going back to Antarctica. So that would also look like a fantastic thin– of raising awareness about not only how great outer space is, but how space and space technology help us monitor earth and monitor the polar caps in the regions of the world. So I know that was an exciting adventure you did as well.
Yeah, going to the South Pole was quite an adventure. You know the interesting thing about it was, it’s the closest thing on earth that’s like living on another planet. Going to Antarctica– getting there is pretty hard, and of course the weather is pretty extreme. So they’re living in a way that is very similar to living—if you were living off world, on another planet. As a matter of fact, I heard someone say that it’s easier and quicker to get someone back from the International Space Station than it is from Antarctica when the weather– like in the winter months, because it’s that difficult to get there and back. Which I think really does give us a feeling of what it would be like having people live off world so it’s a good, simulated environment, and they’re doing lots of experiments down there with growing food and testing extreme environments that are very, very relative to what’s going on in space.
Fantastic. Well, I have loved our interview and I know it’s time to wrap up. We have to let you get back out there and take care of business, but is there anything else you’d like to share with our audience today?
You know I just want to say, you know, I’m someone who never ever would have been included in this world, because I’m not like the best person at science and technology and math and all of these things in the STEM world. I’m an artist and a musician, but I love space too. So I guess my message would be space is for everyone. We need everyone involved in the space realm, and I think that that’s what the Apollo missions demonstrated best: is that all hands-on deck, every expertise, you know the seamstresses, the artist, the marketers. It’s all valuable and if we can just remind people of that and bring everybody into the fold, just imagine what we could do with the Artemis missions of putting the first woman on the moon, which for me is a very exciting thing to look forward to.
Fantastic. Well thank you so much for joining us today. We hope to have you back soon and we hope that we’ll be seeing you at symposium, as well as some other upcoming events.
I plan to see you there.
I’m looking forward to it. Well thank you so much! If you’re interested in learning more about our space commerce program or watching other entrepreneurial webinars go to spacefoundation.org and check out our space commerce series thank you and we look forward to seeing you again. There’s a place for everyone in the new global space ecosystem.
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Shelli Brunswick Interview with Christina Korp, Co-Founder, SPACE for a Better World, and President, Purpose Entertainment