A peek behind the scenes of The Space Show (part 1)
by Mark Trulson
|I saw the way for excitement, adventure, how to satisfy my curiosity about everything scientific, our origins, purpose, the cosmos, and then much later in life, my spirituality, all by understanding space and our place in it and our relationship as part of it.|
I also remember doing duck and cover drills in elementary through high school. I can still hear my teachers telling us that if we were to see a large bright flash outside, we should get under the desk (duck), cover our head and eyes (cover) from the flying glass, and don’t look at the window. As if all this would have made a difference, right? But the Cold War was in full force, neighbors were building backyard bomb shelters all over Tulsa, and the OU football winning streak had been terminated!
Then President Kennedy came along, and we started hearing about how going to the Moon would bring us to the lead again. We were jazzed, excited, thrilled, invigorated, and inspired. All of us in high school talked about space, watched it on TV, could not get enough of the space program, of Walter [Cronkite] and Jules [Bergman] and rockets and the Saturn 5. It was such an exciting and thrilling time and the space race to the Moon did it all. Wow, an incredible time to live through!
These events, and those that you asked me about, are absolutely responsible for what I do today. I saw the way for excitement, adventure, how to satisfy my curiosity about everything scientific, our origins, purpose, the cosmos, and then much later in life, my spirituality, all by understanding space and our place in it and our relationship as part of it. The burning passion, love, all of it: it has never left me and today it guides me and it also frustrates me.
The meaning and relevance of it all changes as I go through life, get older, watch my kids grow up, see the world we live in, experience the greatness of humanity and the worst of it, all at the same time. It was important for me to discover how to channel all of what I have just described into more than a dream, more than an intellectual experience or even a sort of consciousness that is hard to define, especially in terms of our typical reality. I wanted to take what I intuitively and academically knew and was experiencing about space and make it work for me as well as others in our world today. Figuring out how to focus the incredible power of space, to work toward becoming space-faring to improve our human condition on Earth, this is what was driving me about space.
The Space Show helps this along by being reality based, drawing upon all our dreams, the dreams of listeners and guests, showing and hopefully leading the way to making the dreams become our reality. It may sound a bit corny or even a lot like New Age gibberish, but the fact is space remains the only activity on Earth where mankind has always worked for mutual betterment. No wars, no destruction, no hate. Think about it: in the midst of the Cold War—when I was doing duck-and-cover drills and being scared daily by the news, the government, the USSR, hydrogen bombs, how dangerously behind the Soviets we were in the US, and how advanced the USSR was in critical areas, maybe even to the point of attacking us if we did not attack them first—we were also making treaties to use space peacefully, to rescue all astronauts in trouble regardless of nationality, to assure some liability protection arising from space-related activities that hurt nations and people, and to keep weapons out of space. We even found a way to join USSR and American astronauts together in space. Space shows us the way. We need to pay attention.
TSR: You went on to Golden Gate University in San Francisco, first gaining an MBA and then a DBA, which you wrapped up with a doctoral dissertation that was titled “Outer Space Commerce: Its History and Prospects”. Was space always lurking in the back of your mind during your studies or at what point did the idea for that dissertation subject come to you?
Livingston: No, space was just my interest, my love. I never associated it with academic studies or anything like that. My academic interest developed much later, long after I had finished all my academic class work and comprehensive exams. Due to circumstances in my life, I put the DBA program and my dissertation aside to focus on family and career issues. Years after finishing my class work and orals for my doctorate, I chose to write my doctoral dissertation, but by the time I got my final letter to write it or get out of the program so much of life had come and gone, it was hard for me to even think about traditional business school dissertation topics. Plus, I really had no interest in researching the traditional and usual subjects.
You see, my second son was born with cystic fibrosis shortly after I completed my comprehensives, and he had a rough beginning to life so I tabled my dissertation work and had actually forgotten about it. He was about ten at the time that I received the “put up or quit” letter from my school, and having faced some real important challenges in life, circumstances, experiences, and new realities had changed my perspective and my interests. I decided that I would only write my doctoral dissertation if I could choose and develop my own topic, even if it was considered weird by academic standards.
Space was it for me. As unconventional as space might be in any business school, it was really unconventional for my conservative, small San Francisco business school, Golden Gate University. Expanding space commerce including space tourism was the topic I chose. It’s been an interesting and rewarding path ever since I made that choice.
TSR: Even today, that is not a typical business administration topic. Was it much of a struggle to get it approved?
Livingston: An amazing, challenging, and very difficult struggle! When I took my idea to the dean of the department, he thought that, for the most part, I was a nut case. But he was open minded enough to allow me 90 days to get two DBA committee members from GGU, plus at least one other committee member from GGU or another accredited school, or someone with academic credentials in the business world. He thought I would fail, but he gave me the room to either do it or not do it.
I started by going to my very favorite MBA and DBA professor who was by then retired, Dr. Homan. We had always had a great relationship and his classes in economics and international finance were my favorites. Though he knew nothing about space, he thought my idea was interesting. He agreed to support me, and chair my DBA committee—but I had to find the other committee members on my own.
I started searching among all the Golden Gate DBA professors I had known from graduate school, or met since. Several politely told me they had no time and wished me luck. However, my proposal interested a great marketing professor who I had met, but never had as a teacher. He agreed to do it given Dr. Homan was heading my committee. Thus, Dr. Pruden joined the team.
|I had to defend my proposal for acceptance before a faculty hearing. Trust me when I tell you that I did not face a supportive group. Most thought my topic was too undignified for a serious business school.|
Next, while driving one day to an early morning appointment, I heard an NPR special on the old Mars Underground, and it referenced a professor from Stanford University. As I reside in the Bay Area, contacting someone at Stanford was at least geographically easy to do. I tracked this professor down, and he invited me to come meet him. Dr. Bruce Lusignan gave me a two-hour lecture on space tourism in his office. I took notes faster than I ever had done in college, and we got along really well. He gave me people to contact, etc. I then asked if he would help with my proposal, and although he was an engineering professor and not from the business school, he agreed to help, and later joined my DBA committee. He also introduced me to Dr. Harvey Willenberg at Boeing Commercial Space, and Harvey joined my team as well.
I wrote my proposal with guidance from these four professors, Drs. Homan and Pruden from Golden Gate University in San Francisco, Dr. Bruce Lusignan from Stanford, and Dr. Harvey Willenberg from Boeing. At Golden Gate, I had to defend my proposal for acceptance before a faculty hearing. Trust me when I tell you that I did not face a supportive group. Most thought my topic was too undignified for a serious business school. However, with the support of my four-professor committee and the way I handled their questions and objections, my proposal was accepted and I was authorized to write the dissertation. My approval was by just one vote! One vote!
When I finished my dissertation in 2002, the school gave me a champagne celebration. All the professors who had been at my proposal defense were there, including those who had voted against me. They now applauded my work, because space tourism had by then become mainstream—the subject had been on the cover of Newsweek. Mars pictures were streaming back to Earth from our orbiting cameras and there was new enthusiasm for space.
Golden Gate University had the nation’s cutting-edge business school published doctoral dissertation on these subjects, all thanks to me. The very people that had voted against me were my biggest champions at that celebration. I was later sending them email links to great Mars pictures, reputable and serious space tourism articles, and more. My, the world had changed over that four- to five-year period. It was great to be part of that change, but I never noticed it until I went to that champagne reception. And it was all made possible by just one vote. Had I not found the incredible team to support me and join my committee, and had I not been able to defend my ideas at that hearing, my dissertation would not have happened, and most likely The Space Show would never have been created. It’s interesting how sometimes a future is determined by a narrow margin of one!
I want to make one last point about all this, but it is a major one: Though people did not initially believe in the topic I chose, the one thing Golden Gate University did that was very special was to believe in me, their student. They went after my topic, not me. They gave me the opportunity to be successful. Thinking back on all of it, I applaud Golden Gate for its willingness to go way outside their box. They gave me the chance to show that I could make what was then an unorthodox topic work. Academia is often criticized for being close minded and narrow—and it often is just that—but hats off to Golden Gate. Despite their own preferences and prejudices, they allowed me to follow my path, do or die. It’s a great school and in my case it did what it was supposed to do. I would not have wanted to do my doctoral studies anyplace else, or to work with another committee. My dissertation experience was a gift and I treasure it daily. The experience also pays off daily with countless benefits. I know anything is possible and that one can create something from what appears to be nothing.
TSR: So, with all that under your belt, you provide business consulting, strategic planning and financial advice, you guest lecture, you are guest instructing at the University of North Dakota, and you are actively involved with several space advocacy groups.
Livingston: The Space Show and my space activities are now full-time and I seldom engage in terrestrial business consulting. A few times a year I will do so but truthfully, it’s boring. I have, however, engaged in business consulting for space startups. The fact is there is no difference from a terrestrial company, other than that the space company has a product, service, or activity that takes place in space. There is no separate spreadsheet for space. Assumptions still need grounding. Computing an ROI or doing a pro forma requires the same accounting, math, and financial rules. I have actually been stressing this lately on the show and in my lectures because somehow many alt.space types think that having a space company means they get to have space rules, not business rules.
|All the professors who had been at my proposal defense… now applauded my work, because space tourism had by then become mainstream—the subject had been on the cover of Newsweek.|
As a one-person everything, often it takes me longer to do something than if I had a staff. I also am very close with my kids though one is out of college now and the other is still at UCSB. I take care of my 98-year-old mom who is a massive stroke victim in a nursing home. Relevant to your question, I was recently with Dr. Robert Zubrin, and we were talking about his new play about Benedict Arnold which I am trying to arrange to do on The Space Show this summer. I asked Bob how he finds time to do all of what he does. He told me one could do quite a bit if they don’t watch television. I do confess that I watch television but, still, one can do quite a bit by prioritizing, scheduling, and staying focused. I can’t go the extra mile as Bob has done—there are too many things that I still like on TV—but I do work hard to get my projects done and move on to the next one. Clearly, there is no shortage of ideas, certainly not for The Space Show.