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An Interview with Retired NASA Astronaut, Col. Terry Virts
Read on for a space expert (and Also Capital LP!) thoughts on some of the most exciting developments on the horizon.
Earlier this year, I sat down with Also Capital LP, Col. Terry Virts (a retired NASA astronaut), in advance of our portfolio company Varda Space’s first demo mission. Varda is awaiting FAA re-entry approval for its groundbreaking Winnebago-1 capsule (the FAA is quite busy with high profile, innovative space developments seeking approval these days! #Starship). Upon successful issuance of its re-entry license, Varda will continue its trailblazing path by being the first company to successfully receive an FAA Part 450 re-entry license. While we eagerly await the opportunity to welcome Winnebago-1 home, we thought it would be good to revisit our inspiring conversation with Terry from back in June. Enjoy!
Originally Published June 5, 2023
As we approach launch day for Varda’s first (of many!) space manufacturing demo missions, I sat down with one of our LPs, Col. Terry Virts to chat about the significance of this event in context of his own experience as a career astronaut. I learned some amazing things like:
Terry's favorite photo from his 200-day ISS mission (linked below);
Areas of private space he thinks are oversaturated; and
The public servant who inspires him most.
Terry was an Air Force F16 pilot, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. He flew a 2-week mission as a shuttle pilot and 200-day mission eventually as ISS commander, where he did 3 spacewalks.
On what inspired him to pursue a career as an astronaut: Like many teens in the 1970s, Terry was inspired to pursue a career in space by the Apollo missions and The Right Stuff, Tom Wolfe's 1979 book about pilots engaged in U.S. postwar research with experimental rocket-powered, high-speed aircraft.
On his favorite memory from being in space: In his 7 months in space Terry took over 300,000 photos. His favorite was a time lapse of the Northern Lights, linked here. On why it's his favorite: "It’s other-worldly, you just don’t see stuff like that from Earth."
On the hardest part of being an astronaut: In his words, "Space is 99% work with occasional sublime, un-Earthly experiences. There really is a stark juxtaposition between your daily work and your occasional amazing experience."
On the biggest change in the space industry over the last 20 years: "The rise of private companies and the innovation and cost cutting they’ve allowed. This is a great thing and will continue to happen."
On the biggest problems and most oversaturated areas of private space: "We need to get a grip on space debris, there’s no current international regulatory agency on that and there is a very real risk that we pollute Earth orbit for generations to come."
...and on the areas most at risk of oversaturation: "Launch and mega-constellations are the top two."
On new opportunities presented by the commercialization of space: "Space manufacturing is one, communication is another...Unique attributes of space like weightlessness and a global perspective / coverage are two things that you just can’t get on Earth."
On the business case for space: "I think you need to have monetization that stems from Earth...So your activity in space needs to lead to customers writing you checks down here on our planet."
On George H.W. Bush's putting service before self serving as his greatest professional and personal inspiration: "This is old-school, but I’ve always admired George HW Bush. He served his country during WW2, eschewed his wealthy East-coast lifestyle to move to Texas to start a business, raised an amazing family and always prioritized that, and devoted a lot of his life to public service. His 1990 tax deal led to a decade of reduced deficits for the country, even though it cost him his political career.”