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Jeff Kottkamp and Rich Ramos: Price for long-term success can be short-term failure

The words “We have liftoff!” are as exciting as any in the English language; right up there with “Gentlemen, start your engines!”

The remarkable feat of sending a rocket or space shuttle into space has seen the heights of triumph and the depths of failure. Many still agonize over a fire that took the lives of astronauts Gus Grissom, Ed White and Roger Chafee more than 48 years ago. For a time, some supporters of President John F. Kennedy’s dream of placing a man on the moon wavered because of the tragedy.

During an inquiry, fellow astronaut and later Eastern Airlines president, Frank Borman, recalled the words of Grissom, who knew every day there was a chance for a fatal accident. However, Grissom made it clear that if the worst-case scenario occurred, it mustn’t derail plans for a moon landing. It would be the greatest tragedy, Grissom had said, to let a single failure threaten the ultimate goal.

A week ago, Space X launched the unmanned Falcon 9 rocket with a 5,500-pounds payload headed for the International Space Station. The plan was to return to earth by landing on a platform at sea. During the ascent, the rocket burst into flames and exploded. The immediate reaction by many was to criticize and demonize the space program and plans for future unmanned and manned missions.

Although every inventor, scientist, businessman and businesswoman never like to see failure in their worlds, we know from history that failure is a precursor to success. If a conversation was held with 1,000 successful people in different professions, all would agree they learned far more from their failures than from their successes. Thomas Edison famously said, “I have not failed — I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”

As President Kennedy said at Rice University in 1962, “… we choose to go to the moon and to do other things not because they are easy — but because they are hard.”

Space exploration and an expansion of the aerospace industry are not easy, nor will they ever be easy. The most rewarding things in our lives are challenging. They do not fall into our laps. We work hard to achieve them.

It’s time for us to begin a mantra and repeat it daily: “We will go to Mars!” (Slightly less colorful than Buzz Aldrin’s “Get your a** to the moon!”)

When we make that commitment, it will ignite the next great intellectual revolution in the history of mankind. Why? Because it will require people to come together to overcome all the obstacles posed by such an incredible undertaking.

In a very real way, it will be similar to the Mercury, Gemini, Apollo, Skylab, Shuttle, Voyager, Viking, Hubble Telescope, the Large Hadron Collider technologies that were conceived, developed and put to work.

The most important difference between the early days of NASA and today is that it need not be thought of as purely a government project. In fact, Space X is a perfect example of using a public-private partnership to achieve such a goal. There are countless enterprises prepared to invest in such partnerships. For example, the creation of a series of laboratory pods on the surface of Mars could be underwritten by a cooperative of pharmaceutical companies and research hospitals to test long-term effects on medication, treatments and so much more.

It is only a matter of time before successful companies’ stake out a place in the industry. We will undoubtedly see companies that have shifted the paradigm in their industries — such as Apple, DirecTV or Verizon — making sizable investments in research and development for new space program technologies that will also benefit their consumers.

The marketplace could range from incomprehensibly complex problems being worked on around the globe, to personal issues such as storms pixilating the satellite feed of our favorite television programs or an improved cellular telephone reception.

We will never know until we invest in such forward-looking technologies. We must urge Congress to create the Cosmos Public Private Partnership Opportunity (C3PO) that will be used in similar support of research and development of projects in a matching fund approach. C3PO would encourage expanded relationships with colleges and universities and student internships in all disciplines.

If we invest today the return on investment will be earth-shattering.

So remember, “We will go to Mars!”  Are ready for liftoff!

This is the second in a series of articles regarding a greater commitment to space exploration. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Lt. Gov. Jeff Kottkamp is president of Jeff Kottkamp, P.A. He was Florida’s 17th lieutenant governor, from 2007 to 2011. While in office he chaired the board of directors of Space Florida , and helped lead efforts to strengthen Florida’s position as global leader in aerospace. He worked closely with NASA and the Air Force Space Command as Florida developed commercial space opportunities.

Rich Ramos is chairman and director of Ramos & Sparks Group, a Tallahassee-based business-development and government-consulting firm. He has been a staff aide to a member of Congress, and an executive as well as a legislative leader in state government. This admitted space wonk’s interest and research have fueled his efforts to make it a driving policy issue for nearly 25 years.

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