Space has long been seen as the final frontier for all sorts of people, from kids who want to be astronauts when they grow up to intrepid tourists and entrepreneurs.
Mark and Scott Kelly, twin brothers and retired US Navy captains and astronauts, spoke at the Yext Location World Conference in New York City about how that seemingly unattainable world is becoming a reality to the masses.
Though some might contend that Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX are merely billionaire hobbies, the Kelly twins support their initiatives and believe it’s excellent for such influential leaders to be penetrating the space industry. This, however, wasn’t always the case.
Mark admits that, at first, he was skeptical of Musk’s ambitions. But after Mark met Musk and started following his work, he became fully supportive of SpaceX. In fact, he’s now a consultant for the company.
“I didn’t think he’d be able to pull it off,” he said. “[Musk] said he’s going to orbit a spacecraft. He said he’s going to deliver cargo to the space station. He said he’s going to land his rocket on a barge in the ocean so he can reuse it. All those things I was like ‘Ah, I don’t think so.’ But he’s done it,” Mark said. “So I think when you look at the success he’s had, his ambition doesn’t seem that crazy anymore.”
There are still many who are wary about the feasibility of Musk’s rocket company. Noted hedge fund managers David Einhorn and Jim Chanos have criticized Musk, with Einhorn calling him an overly promotional CEO who blinds his investors.
And just this week, a NASA advisory committee convened to discuss safety concerns surrounding SpaceX, especially in light of the Falcon 9 rocket that exploded during a routine fueling procedure in September. The committee had reportedly met earlier in the year to raise red flags around the same procedure.
Despite the slip-ups, Mark says he’s confident that Musk will succeed. “I think if there’s anybody, as an individual with a company, who is going to figure this out — maybe on his own or with assistance — I think it could be Elon,” he said.
Mark is an entrepreneur himself, having co-founded World View Enterprises, which uses high-altitude helium balloons to bring spacecraft into the stratosphere — above 100,000 feet, “to give people the experience of space without having to fly on the rocket ship.”
Ultimately, the Kellys are convinced that technological innovation is the key to making space travel accessible to all.
For people like Richard Branson, Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, their goal is not just space tourism, said Mark. “They’ve got long-term visions of how this evolves into the transportation system around the planet,” Mark said.
Scott — who actually met Bezos for the first time last week — said he’s fascinated by Bezos’s long-term view on Blue Origin, which landed its fifth successful rocket last week. “He said, ‘I’m thinking about 100 years from now. This is not something I’m doing for my lifetime. I’m thinking about how this is going to help my planet,” said Scott, who says Bezos’s plans show promise. Blue Origin is expected to fly test astronauts by the end of next year and commercial flights by 2018.
“That’s traditionally something only governments have been able to do, but now we have guys like Elon and Jeff that are visionaries and also have the resources to do something that has historically been the government’s job,” Scott said.
In addition to their respect for Bezos’s ambitions for space, they share his political views as well.
At the Vanity Fair new establishment summit last month, Bezos joked about saving a seat for Donald Trump on a Blue Origin rocket, using the hashtag #SendDonaldToSpace, in response to the presidential candidate’s jabs at The Washington Post and Amazon.
When asked whether he is on board with #SendDonaldToSpace, Mark said, without skipping a beat, “Sure, I think that’s a great idea.”
And according to the Kellys, this could become a reality sooner than you think.
Melody Hahm is a writer at Yahoo Finance, covering entrepreneurship, technology and real estate. Follow her on Twitter @melodyhahm.