Apollo astronauts give thanks to SpaceX

SpaceX Apollo photo

A photo of a SpaceX Falcon 9 launch, bearing the signatures and messages of nine Apollo astronauts collected by venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson. His colleague, Mohanjit Jolly, is kneeling next to the photo. (credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

There is a perception of a rift between the “old guard” of established aerospace companies, as well as the astronauts who flew on some of NASA’s most historic missions, with the emerging entrepreneurial NewSpace companies, exemplified by SpaceX. That division was evident in a 60 Minutes segment about SpaceX, which originally aired in March and reaired early last month, after SpaceX’s successful flight to the ISS. The segment included a clip of testimony by Apollo 17 commander Gene Cernan critical of the administration’s emphasis on commercial space, and Musk’s reaction. “I was very sad to see that because those guys are– yeah. You know, those guys are heroes of mine, so it’s really tough,” he said. Asked if he expected Cernan and other former astronauts to support his efforts, he said, “Certainly hoping they would.”

Steve Jurvetson, a venture capitalist who has invested in SpaceX, saw the 60 Minutes segment and decided to do something about it. That something is shown in a photo on his Flickr photo-sharing account: a picture of a Falcon 9 launch signed by nine Apollo astronauts, with messages of thanks and encouragement to Musk and SpaceX. Those signing the photo include Buzz Aldrin, Alan Bean, and Fred Haise. “And now, a giant leap for commercial space!” was Aldrin’s message.

Jurvetson wanted to get Cernan to tour SpaceX’s factory, as Musk offered in the 60 Minutes segment, but had no success. He did approach him, though, to get him to sign the photo, explaining to him the person effort and funding that Musk put into the company. Cernan agreed, with a message that both offered congratulations and, perhaps, a little advice: “Congratulations on a job well done – now the challenge begins…”

Cernan message

A closeup of the portion of the photo with Gene Cernan’s message and autograph. (credit: Steve Jurvetson/Flickr)

Cernan, Jurvetson recalls, asked a lot of questions about the company and its funding. “As I told him these stories of heroic entrepreneurship, I could see his mind turning,” Jurvetson wrote. “He found a reconciliation: ‘I never read any of this in the news. Why doesn’t the press report on this?’” In fact, many of the ups and downs about SpaceX that Jurvetson recounted to Cernan have been reported in the media—including during a certain 60 Minutes segment.

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