Over the decades I've come to know three NASA astronauts. As entrepreneurs, you and I are in constant pursuit of inspiration from challenges and opportunities, from inside ourselves and outside, from others. It's hard to find a profession that's more steeped in inspiration than Space Travel. While there may be some other exciting pursuits, NASA space astronauts are certainly today's 'Explorers' in the mode of Magellan, Marco Polo and Vasco da Goma.
Scott Carpenter: In the early 1970's, Carpenter was tasked with purchasing new duds to wear in an upcoming Esquire Magazine article on him. Yours truly, your humble writer, was selling men's suits in his college days, at a traditional clothing shop near UCLA. I picked out two suits for him, along with perfectly matching shirts and ties. The way I recall it is that Carpenter ultimately wore the suit with the wrong shirt and tie. This man was the second American (after John Glenn) to orbit the Earth and the fourth American in space, but I couldn't rely on him not to mix stripes with polka dots. Come in, Mission Control!
Buzz Aldrin: I was one of the founders of a hot new software start-up called Knowledge Adventure, and met Aldrin at a trade conference. Our company was planning a new Space CD-ROM, so I cornered Aldrin right there and made him an offer to work on the product. Space Adventure was a hit and helped lead us to our JumpStart CD-ROM series, which ultimately sold over 20 million copies. We all enjoyed talking with Aldrin, and heard numerous space exploration stories to help prepare us to make the product. Most important revelation from Aldrin was... going to the moon was truly amazing, but it was the trip home that worried everyone. They were pretty confident they could get to the Moon, but they weren't so sure they'd be able to make it back home, to the Earth. Now, I may be proud of some of the start-up adventures I've worked on, but I've never risked my life going to the Moon. Cheers to Colonel Aldrin!
Dr. Bernard Harris: I'm a long-term advisor to Lifebot, known for amazingly innovative telemedicine and resuscitation solutions, all by the inventor whose creation enabled development of the original AED (Automatic External Defibrillator). A few years back, Harris' venture fund became an investor in Lifebot. Inspirational fact: In 1995 Harris, a NASA astronaut, became the first African American to perform an extra-vehicular activity (spacewalk), during the second of his two Space Shuttle flights.
His Vesalius Ventures invests in early-stage companies in Medical Informatics and Technology with a great strength in Telemedicine. While Dr. Harris is surely brilliant, how often do you run into someone who knows how to walk in space?
Stay tuned to this column for other inspirations I have met: "Talent" like Mohammed Ali, Dennis Wilson (the Beach Boys) and Ringo Star; and "Brains" like Bill Gross (founder of Idealab and creator of billions of dollars of value; Tom Cain, CEO of GSV-Sustainability-Partners, looking to invest in billions of dollars of sustainability projects, and Nolan Bushnell, who founded Atari and lead to the development of the personal computer industry (Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak worked for Nolan at Atari.)