Tell us about your journey into space technologies and how you arrived at Space Foundation?
I spent 30 years in the Navy in various capacities but was always drawn to how technology could help us do our jobs better and keep personnel connected to critical and relevant data to do those jobs. As commander, Naval Space Command, I gained a deep understanding of how space technologies in particular provide a much-needed network to the environments in which we operated. The more I learned about how connected space is to our daily experiences on Earth and the capacity for space innovations to improve our daily lives, the more it became my mission to work with government agencies, commercial enterprises, universities and communities to leverage space technology throughout all industries from healthcare and public safety to agriculture, energy, telecommunications, transportation and more. Space Foundation aligns perfectly with my personal and professional objective to drive collaboration across a global space community.
Did your stint with the U.S. Navy mold your vision for space technologies?
Absolutely, particularly when I served as commander of Carrier Group 3 during Operation Enduring Freedom, Department of the Navy Deputy CIO/Navy CIO, and as commander, Naval Space Command. I came to believe that space technology and innovation would be hampered only by the constraints we placed on our thinking. I developed a deep appreciation for entrepreneurs and the mindset that anything was possible when groups collaborate around ideas and using technology to solve challenges. In bringing space tech to market, there is the capacity to better our world in numerous ways from improving quality of life to increasing economic opportunity.
What do you think is the greatest learning curve that we need to make in the space industry?
For decades, people have viewed the space industry only in terms of planets and space exploration. There is so much more to it. The space economy is as much about life on Earth as it is what’s “out there.” From that perspective, we need to move the goalposts considerably in terms of how we talk about and educate people on space across the spectrum. It’s not just how we teach elementary school students, but also really about engaging with all people in new ways — at any juncture of their career life cycle — so they understand all that space encompasses and can see opportunity and access for themselves to jump in, participate, contribute or benefit — as a professional worker, a supply chain vendor, an educational partner, or as a supporter through grants and donations. There is a place in space for everyone in the space economy … and the timing is perfect now.
There are hundreds of online learning, training and development courses for AI, ML and other emerging technologies. What makes space tech learning so different?
It’s not just about new technologies it’s also about continuously upskilling on technologies that have been around for a very long time and applying them intentionally to space technology innovations. Our Center for Innovation and Education is approaching space commerce training uniquely by asking people to inventory their skill sets and to reconsider how they can contribute to a larger space technology objective. The moment of enlightenment is when individuals and small businesses become aware of the vast expanse of opportunities to insert and transfer skill sets and technologies to both commercial enterprise and government solutions. Once aware, interested parties follow our Workforce Development Roadmap to attain awareness, access, training, connections and mentorship to begin engagements in the space industry. I’ve seen this happen personally and find it extremely gratifying to be part of.
Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has cost billions to the economy and taken away millions of jobs, what role does Space Foundation play in restoring the economic values?
Despite the current economic upheaval, the space economy is expected to reach $1-3 trillion within the next 10-20 years. Prior to COVID-19, space industries were facing an unprecedented workforce shortage, and because space has remained resilient during the pandemic, we are helping identify opportunities for displaced workers and facilitate training as well as networking to ensure that well-qualified people from all walks of life, at any stage in their careers, get connected to good jobs in the space economy.
We can also work to prepare the next generation to enter the space community so that we are building a robust pipeline of qualified workers. Particularly while students are home from school, unsure of when they might go back and in what capacity, we can reach them with immersive online programs.
By engaging the current and future workforce in the space community today, we are helping to open up significant opportunities and solidify economic well-being for the long term.
Where do you see the space tech startup, commercial enterprise, and government programs heading in the next 2-3 years?
Forming unique partnerships to make bold discoveries. Two-to-three years might be ambitious in terms of commercialization, but it is possible if groups collaborate efficiently, which is certainly the goal. If entrepreneurs work in conjunction with commercial enterprises to bring novel solutions to market, and that work is supported and adopted by the government, innovation can happen at a dramatically accelerated rate — much faster than any entity can accomplish on its own. This is something many of DoD’s space leaders have sought for years rapid acquisition and adoption of new technologies. With Space Foundation’s rich heritage of global partnerships, our Center for Innovation and Education is well-positioned to broker these relationships.
What is the importance of the SpaceX launch to the charter of your new Center for Innovation and Education?
May 30 marked the first launch of U.S. astronauts in a U.S. rocket from U.S. soil since 2011. That is a groundbreaking achievement, and it happened because private industry worked in collaboration with the government. From that perspective, while there is so much excitement, it’s also the right time to call attention to the deep supply chain required to make events like this possible. It goes back to raising awareness. Our focus should be to capitalize on this opportunity to showcase how so many pieces came together to literally make history and change the way we access space forever.
Today, space is more than a frontier for rockets and astronauts. It has become a platform that creates commerce, enables infrastructure to connect people and countries, and drives inspiration for entrepreneurs to commercial space innovation that improves daily lives worldwide. The rise of the space entrepreneur will open more doors of opportunity than we can imagine.
Thank you, Tom! That was fun and hope to see you back on AiThority.com soon.
Tom Zelibor is the CEO for Space Foundation, a 501(c)(3) global space advocate. Headquartered in Colorado Springs, Colorado, Zelibor manages a national staff with a worldwide impact across the business, government, education and local communities. Before joining Space Foundation in April 2017, Zelibor served as chairman and chief executive officer for Lightwave Logic Inc., among other executive roles in commercial enterprises. Prior to his leadership tenure in the private sector, Zelibor had a distinguished 30-year career in the United States Navy, retiring as a Rear Admiral in 2006.
Founded in 1983, the Space Foundation is the foremost advocate for all sectors of space, and is a global, nonprofit leader in space awareness activities, educational programs and major industry events, including the annual Space Symposium, in support of its vision “The world’s premier organization to inspire, educate, connect, and advocate on behalf of the global space community.” The vision is the anchor for the mission to “Be the preeminent resource for space education, a trusted source of space information, and a provider of exceptional forums for the exchange of ideas.” Space Foundation World Headquarters in Colorado Springs, Colo., USA,