Six months ago, I shared with you the challenges behind Space Foundation’s decision to postpone the annual Space Symposium and bringing the world’s space community to Colorado Springs. In that time, a lot has happened. For the global space community, we’ve seen: three nations launch new missions to Mars; the successful launch, mission and return of two American astronauts aboard an American rocket; and the continued resilient growth of the $424 billion dollar worldwide space economy. We have also seen the continued impact of the coronavirus on every community where lives, businesses, education and everyday happenings have been disrupted.
The aspirations everyone has had for this year have been set aside as well. All of us have learned to adjust our lives by wearing masks, practicing social distancing, and engaging with people through digital means more than we ever imagined. None of this has been easy, nor has the continued need to make even more adjustments to our lives as we try to move forward.
Last week, Space Foundation had to make another adjustment in announcing the rescheduling of the 36th Space Symposium, this time, a shift to Aug. 22-26, 2021. We are not alone in the challenging decision-making environment as schools, universities, businesses, factories and other organizations are having to make similar tough calls. While we aspire for some sense of normalcy, realities have to be faced of what is safe and possible over what is wanted and comfortable.
Making the pivot as organizations are having to do in today’s COVID world requires gut checks as much as it does painful choices. Balance sheets, revenue models, operational processes and more do not often change in an instant, however, if not addressed or adjusted quickly, normally accepted approaches will not weather the storm we are enduring. Hard times require leadership. It is easy to look good when all is well, but the true measure of us is how we respond and rise to the occasion in crisis.
This is the situation we are finding ourselves and understanding the pivot is crucial. At Space Foundation, we have taken great pride as the annual convener of the global space community, but what COVID is interrupting will not stop the mission we have to accomplish. Using the very technologies and know-how that allow us to send a satellite to far off reaches of the universe and then send an image and data back to us so we might learn what’s out there. Using the creativity that has salvaged missions and other complex operations from failure, we will adapt and succeed. Face-to-face engagements to build relationships will always be our preference, but when conditions require, we will use any means we to connect with one another and keep moving forward.
That is the Space Foundation we will be.
This also means being open to outsiders that can bring new views and energy to the conversations we want to have. Today more than 80 countries and hundreds, if not thousands of companies are operating in the space community. What each of them brings to an approaching half a trillion-dollar space economy, is as diverse as it is inspiring. At Space Foundation, we will be the steward of those stories — digitally, virtually, programmatically and in person.
This does not detract from what the Space Symposium is — the premier global gathering of the world’s space leaders, innovators and talent. The pivot that COVID has rendered this year pushes us to think and act bigger and bolder than ever before.
Colorado and the Colorado Springs community must lead as it seeks to become America’s, if not the world’s center of gravity for space engagement. From the Air Force Academy, our regional military facilities and the headquarters of the free world’s military space leadership, to the growing commercial space providers that call the Rocky Mountain state and this region home — we are a top destination for talent and investment.
The pivot Space Foundation and others are making at this unique point in our history is to be prepared to resiliently serve, connect and execute on that mission beyond the past successful norms.
Pivots can have stumbles and even occasional false starts, but a change in course has to be calculated and purposeful. This is why Space Foundation is evolving our institutional hallmark of the Space Symposium to serve the space community and this region in innovative ways.
Today we know more about operating in an adverse environment than we did six months ago and no doubt we will know even more as efforts to provide a vaccine come to fruition. That evolution, as successful as we hope it to be, should not be an excuse to go back to the way things used to be. Rather, making the pivot Space Foundation is executing, is the way our success today and tomorrow will be measured.
We’re on our way.
Tom Zelibor is the chief executive officer of Space Foundation in Colorado Springs.