From the Archives: Xue and the Importance of Blogging

Back before the Launch Pad existed, I blogged over on the main X PRIZE Foundation website. I was definitely a beginning blogger (not that I'm an expert now), and between not knowing what exactly to do, not having too much time to write, and not having any co-authors, the content on that blog wasn't enough to generate the kind of traffic we see here on the Launch Pad.

That said, there are a few posts there that I still like. I've picked out a few favorites, and I'm going to reproduce them here (not all at once, don't worry). So, fans of the old "Pomerantz Report" (I was never sure where that name came from... why not "Pomer-rants" or something?) can probably just skip these posts. But if you are relatively new here--well, forget what I just said! This is fresh material!

I’m an alumnus of the International Space University. I took part in the Masters of Space Studies program in 2003-2004. While I was a student there, we were fortunate to have the two surviving Founders of the University—Peter Diamandis, whom I now work for, and Bob Richards, the founder and CEO of Odyssey Moon—come to give us a presentation about the Foundation of the University. It was a cool, interesting story of three talented, ambitious, young dreamers who were somehow able to make amazing things happen. It was a fun presentation, and made for an enjoyable day in class.

But to be honest, the real story behind the founding of ISU didn’t hit me until about a year later. In the spring of 2005, I was helping a group of ISU alums put together an Alumni Congress, to be held in conjunction with the 2005 International Space Development Conference (ISDC). 2005 marked the 10-year anniversary of the death of Todd Hawley, the third co-founder of ISU; and to commemorate his life, we were inaugurating a new award—the Todd B. Hawley Award (which, coincidently, went to Loretta Hidalgo Whitesides, now also a member of Odyssey Moon). In doing some background research on Todd, I stumbled across a book he had written in his final years called Xue (or, more properly, 学). That book very literally changed my life.

Peter Diamandis and Todd HawleyIn a sense, I can’t even call Xue a book. It’s more like a collection of notes, photocopies, sketches, and recollections. It was clearly the result of years of meticulous note-keeping by Todd and others. As best I know the story, in Todd’s final years, he pulled together these notes and put them in order, supplementing them with written words of his own or of friends—sometimes in hand, sometimes neatly typed out in entries of a paragraph or two. The newer entries always list their date in terms of Days HSE, a running count upwards of days beginning with April 12, 1961, the day human beings first explored space. It was also coindentally--or perhaps not--a running count of the day's of Todd's life, as he was born on April 13, 1961. The HSE, I presume, stands for Human Space Era or something similar--though maybe the H stands for Hawley.

The book is, to be honest, tough to finish, because it isn’t a book at all, but rather just a collection. It is strange to say, but somehow, this book truly touched me, even though I haven’t read every single word, or even every page.

That’s because somehow, the collection makes the story incredibly real. What was a nice story of three never-say-never young men becomes one that would literally astound me (“they wrote a letter to who?!? And asked for what?!? And they got it!?!”). It's pretty amazing to read the thoughts not only of Todd himself, but also of others who were present at the event. And even reading meeting minutes--something that's not exactly riveting normally--is quite enjoyable with the warm glow of nostalgia. Lost in the pages of Xue, I grew to know some friends I’d met in person much better through these simple words on the printed page; and I came to view Todd, who I never met, as a hero, much larger than life.

But Xue did more for me than just tell a nice story. It also taught me a great deal about ambition, tenacity, passion, and risk-taking. Reading the book as a twenty-five year old, I was reading about three gentlemen who were essentially the same age I was at the time. They were writing letters to heads of space agencies, ambassadors, and heroes like John Glenn; and they weren't only getting responses, they were getting pledges of support and funding, sometimes from those people's personal wealth. In the height of the Reagan-era Cold War, they were telling senior officials in both the USA and the USSR that this University they had dreamed up would be a place for the leaders of each country's future space industry to mingle together and learn how to play nicely. Perpetually one step away from financial ruins and the end of their dream, they would work at top speed until the final second, pulling in payment and donations when they sometimes were literally about to have their electricity cut off. In short, they had every reason to abandon their idea or to fail trying to make it happen--and yet somehow, they didn't. Reading this book, and connecting with its story, I began to realize that I, too, could accomplish much more, and that neither age nor inexperience nor lack of wealth could serve as a good excuse for me not to try. I've done my best to pattern my career on those principles.

Fast forward to yesterday—Day 17078 HSE (or Day 10024 WSE?). The time and place are different, but one of the characters is the same: Bob Richards, then the co-founder of ISU, now the co-founder of Odyssey Moon. Bob was in town for a visit, and stopped by the X PRIZE office to catch up and go over a few points of business. While he was there, we talked a bit about blogging—specifically, the requirement that all Google Lunar X PRIZE teams blog at least once a week, and submit videos totaling at least one hour per month. As the first fully registered Team, Odyssey is the first team to have to meet this requirement. They are also a bit unique among teams in that they existed (albeit in secret) prior to the announcement of the Google Lunar X PRIZE, and have a great deal of intellectual property that they are not willing to share with the public at this point in time.

What exactly, Bob wanted to know, did we want Odyssey Moon to blog about? What was the purpose behind the requirement?

Essentially all I had to say to Bob was “Xue,” and he got it. He saw in this requirement something that Todd had instinctively realized: that the "how?" and the "why?" of the early days of any important program are something worth capturing, and that capture can be much more effective if done at the time, rather than after the fact.

Some day, not all that far from now, some team or teams will have won the Google Lunar X PRIZE. When that happens, the winning teams will have treasure troves of data to mine to create a new version of Xue, just as Todd had his own meticulous notes from the early days of ISU. Over the weekend, I just picked up Alan Binder’s book on the Lunar Prospector Missions, and discovered that because his wife had asked him to record his thoughts on the project on tape every night, he had enough material to make a 1078-page tome on that mission’s history. A new generation of space enthusiasts will perhaps be inspired by reading through the books of the winning teams, and the collected blogs and videos of all of the others from around the world who took on the great challenge of the Google Lunar X PRIZE. It’s why I’m going to try to stick to this twice-a-week blogging schedule in this new year, and why I look forward to reading each and every entry from all of our Google Lunar X PRIZE teams.

I'll end with the same final note I tacked on to that original post. For those of you interested in reading Xue, I must sadly inform you that it is not commercially available. Though ISU has a few copies remaining, they are difficult to get, and, to the best of my knowledge, no plans exist to print more. It remains a personal goal of mine to see Xue made into a more polished, mass-produced book some day.

Michael Mealling said...

If you can find a copy I can get it into book form via one of the several vanity book printing services out there. Self publishing has become very very easy.

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