The Force Awakens [Part 1]

[This is a two part series reflecting on a slice of 2015 and celebrating the beginnings of a new chapter at Blume, as we turn 5 this month]

Let’s talk rocket science – To Infinity and Beyond

Infinity & beyond

2015 will be etched in my memory. While all spatial and metaphysical possibilities and explanations of human existence or life have fascinated me for a while now, there hasn’t been a more remarkable year of the coming together of fictional and real stories, related to everything connected to space.

It was our Dec 2014 Blume offsite when someone posed a customary philosophical question, timed when everyone’s past their 3rd or 5th drink – “Who’s been the most significant inspiration?” for each of us, from recent memory. I had picked Musk. And within the year, he was everywhere in our popular imagination. More Tesla, more SpaceX, the Ashlee Vance biography, that was quite fawning by the end of it, and before one knew it, he was voted the favourite in a similar Silicon Valley founder survey by the end of 2015. I’m guilty of being in that camp of fans. In June, through US travel, I was devouring the Ashlee Vance-authored book on subways and by Diwali 2015, it then became our joint gift, with our star portfolio co Grey Orange, to all Blume founders. As I finished reading the book in June, we happened to walk into the DFJ office in Silicon Valley and were witness to the various space and moon mission memorabilia collections of Steve Jurvertson (an early believer in Musk and his what-must’ve-seemed-crazy ideas 10 years ago). Thematically, it was already coming together mid-year.

Musk - cover

If there is a founder who dares to dream, Musk has got to be up there – top 5 globally. And we’re talking rocket science here! And he’s joined there by Bezos and a (slightly more talk>action) Branson, amongst others. All seemingly insane space and Martian dreams begin with such folks at the forefront. This used to be solely sponsored by Governments (even today, its subsidized in ways and forms) before it entered the private domain this century. Madness of this kind needs evangelists to breakthrough the daily rigmarole. And I’m glad there are more rocket scientists than ever before doing insanely more interesting work at a scale and pace not seen in decades, thanks to the bravado of such names.

In Nov 2015, we also saw Bezos’ promoted firm Blue Origin edged out SpaceX in the first successful landing of its New Shepard craft as well as its rocket booster BE-3, which fell back to earth and then reignited 1.5 km above the surface, and landed gently back.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9pillaOxGCo (short video)

But Elon’s SpaceX has been attempting a more audacious goal all along and finally pulled off their landing as well. While Blue Origin can claim that it made the space cutoff (100.5km, where the technical definition is 100km), its craft is designed for space tourism, whereas SpaceX is designed for delivering heavier payloads into orbit. Their triumph was managed in Dec and both videos are a must watch, whether you’re a space fanatic or not.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ANv5UfZsvZQ (short video)

Our own ISRO out of Bangalore churns out successful rocket launch after another, with more satellites going up on Indian transport vehicles than ever before. Even the moon and Mars are squarely inside our Indian capabilities. Extremely proud! Interestingly, while they contemplate their own dreams of building and launching a small sat constellation, Earth2Orbit (one of my first angel investments into a couple of friends – Susmita and Amaresh – almost a decade ago) hits a milestone this year. E2O facilitated the imminent launch of Google-owned SkyBox on an ISRO rocket – the first American sat to be signed up to fly on an Indian rocket (launch date: late April 2016).

It was also Yuri Milner’s (of DST fame) turn to jump into this interesting quest for everything extra-terrestrial. So, we found ourselves amongst many VCs and founders who were invited to his B’lore launch of his new $100 million effort – to enhance the quest or search for extra-terrestrial life, over the next 10 years. (Honestly, what a terrible crowd to waste the opportunity on! I wish they had a basic 10 question quiz beyond naming the 8/9 planets and the two galaxies and most of us wouldn’t have qualified. Our kids would’ve enjoyed it more and been more inspired). Well – I grant that his objective was noble. The video and discussion on Kepplr and its quest for life-like planets was awe-inspiring.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QL1RsvR7F78 (documentary, 54 mins)

Then, there were the films on post-apocalyptic Earth – Mad Max and Interstellar. Bad science or otherwise, incredible leaps of science fiction and imagery captivated us with Interstellar taking off from where the subtle film Gravity left us. While Interstellar showed us visual depictions of black holes and wormholes, we were then treated to a more humorous Martian excursion which recently elicited even startup mantras on survival and sustenance and risk-taking.

 

In other news, New Horizon flew past Pluto and sent in its first pictures of the “Page 3” planet – which gets tabloid like coverage for its planetary status flip-flop.

If there was a year which fired up a generation of young parents to create dreams afresh, of seeing their children’s lives be filled with interstellar or at least interplanetary travel (leave alone the generic space and the moon – that’s passé – I think I’ll be on a space flight before I’m done with this planet!), this was it!

This was ‘2015, a Space Odyssey’

[Part 2 is here]

 

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