Science & Technology

Angels and UFOs: I Believe I Can Fly


68 percent of Americans believe in angels and 38 percent believe in UFOs. So what's not to like about a panel featuring early stage investors known as angel investors talking about strange new spacecraft?

Remember the NewSpace nerds* from Las Vegas? This weekend, these scrappy commercial space entrepreneurs, investors, and engineers have gathered in Virginia's slightly-less-sparkly Crystal City and I stopped by to see if they're still up to their old tricks.

Having a conference in a down-at-the-heels commercial district just outside D.C. offers up a pleasing metaphor for an industry that has mixed feelings about its runt position at the government teat.

Asked about the impact of government money on a small space company, one panelist raised his crossed fingers in front of him, as if to ward off evil.  Another panelist, former venture capitalist Marco Rubin, said "Government money is the cheapest form of money. But I've seen it become crack cocaine for some serial entrepreneurs." Certain kinds of government contracts can be a "culture killer" for companies that value being "light, nimble, and entrepreneurial," says Andrew Nelson, COO of the space firm XCOR Aerospace. Nelson also suggested that government cash-dependent companies grow more slowly than their fully-private counterparts.

But then all the panelists acknowledged that most large, successful space companies eventually depend on government revenue to survive, at least in part. So public/private it is, at least in the long run. NASA doesn't seem to be selling tickets yet, but there's plenty of action if you have some spare cash and want to reserve your seat on a quickie space flight now.

More info on real Space Angels and NewSpace 2008 panelist Guillermo Söhnlein here.

Awesome retro cartoon Space Angel here.

*I use the term nerd with the greatest affection and approbation.