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Gazette Premium Content Q&A with Elliot Holokauahi Pulham, CEO of the Space Foundation

by charise simpson Special to The Gazette - Published: March 18, 2014

Elliot Holokauahi Pulham grew up on the big island of Hawaii, and graduated from the University of Hawaii School of Journalism. He worked for newspapers in the Hawaiian islands before moving to Seattle, where he worked for Boeing in their space business. He had always wanted to be an astronaut and even had an appointment to the Air Force Academy, but his eyesight tests didn't show optimal results so he chose another path. That path eventually led him to the job of CEO of the Space Foundation in 2001.

Question: What is the business of the Space Foundation?

Answer: We are the nonprofit organization that's going to take humanity kicking and screaming into the future. We really believe in a future where people are traveling throughout the planets and stars, living harmoniously on earth, and we know for that future to happen we need to work with those who set space policy, work with space companies, schools and teachers, and educational institutions.

Q: How many people does the Space Foundation employ and what do you do?

A: We are a diverse operating foundation, employing about 37 people here at our headquarters and another 10 at other locations: Washington, D.C., Florida, New York and Texas. We function as the trade association for the space industry, and we put on the Space Symposium at The Broadmoor every year, which is the largest space conference in the world. We have a research and analysis arm which is kind of an in-house think tank where we generate all the data on the industry and publish a yearly report called The Space Report, which is essentially the bible on our industry. We also have an academic operation that we are very proud of. I have three full time teachers on staff who are all masters degree level. We collaborate with universities that allow us to offer masters degrees to other teachers that are interested in bringing STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and using it as a theme in their classroom. We also offer masters degrees in partnership with our half dozen university partners.

Q: What types of professionals attend the Space Symposium?

A: The symposium brings in space agencies, space policy makers, space companies large and small, universities and researchers - basically anybody who is working on stuff in the space industry.

Q: Do you also advise the U.S. government and governments of other countries?

A: We advise not only American space companies and space policy makers, but we work with space agencies and governments around the world. We have been involved with the United Nations for 15 years, and we are one-third of the U.S. delegation to the United Nations on space issues, along with NASA and the State Department.

Q: How is the Space Foundation growing?

A: We're kind of growing on two ends. We're really working to grow locally as an education resource and museum. On the other hand we're really growing international in the policy and industry development work.

Q: How does the Space Foundation uniquely serve the community?

A: I think we're a terrific local asset for a couple of reasons. We provide a lot of connectivity to other places that the local aerospace companies might not necessarily have connectivity to. For the community, we're finally in a position to offer a great educational infrastructure that has not existed. In addition to being an emerging museum, a lot of what we have in our discovery center is focused on education. We have three unique laboratories in this location: We have Science on a Sphere laboratory (a spherical projection system that provides full-motion view of the Earth, Sun, moons and planets in space); a software lab; and a Mars exploration lab. We also have formal and informal education programs. Our people get to interact with people who are exploring, people who are building the satellites, the rockets, and they get to interact with kids and teachers, and that is a really energizing thing for us.

Q: Did you always want to work in the space industry?

A: I have always wanted to be in the space business. This goes back to when I was a young kid in Hawaii in the 60's. During the heyday of the Apollo program, the Apollo and Gemini crews would parachute to a splashdown in the Pacific, and a helicopter would come get them and put them on an aircraft carrier. They would cruise to Pearl Harbor in Honolulu and there would be a parade. To sit on the curb at Ala Moana Beach Park as a kid and see the convertible coming down the street with the vice president and president of the United States coming down the street flanked by these astronauts, I thought there couldn't be a cooler thing in the world.

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Edited for space and clarity.

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