Orbit Waves Podcast, Episode 4: Jeremiah Owyang

Welcome to Space Nation Orbit Waves, a space lifestyle podcast about unlocking human potential so you can win at life on Earth! I’m your host Amazing CanCan!

Jeremiah Owyang: Hi! I’m Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Catalyst Companies and a partner at Kaleido Insights in Silicon Valley. I work with companies figure out how they should use new technologies.

Amazing CanCan: My first question for you is, how did you get involved in this boot camp experience? Do you have a space background?

Jeremiah Owyang: I don’t have a space background. I am a technologist living in Silicon Valley, and I care a lot about STEM and engineering and sustainability. I had known a number of the folks on the (Space Nation) team prior, which made me a natural fit for the team.

Amazing CanCan: Before you were a part of this did you have any preconceived notions about what an Astronaut Experience might be?

Jeremiah Owyang: I didn’t have any preconceived notions about being an astronaut, other than, like most American boys and girls, I wanted to be an astronaut when growing up. I was fascinated with the concept of Space Camp, and always wanted to attend that one pictured in the movie, and now I was going to have the chance to do it in real life! I was worried that we were going to be jumping into some kind of centrifuge machine.

Amazing CanCan: Yeah that’s my memories of seeing an advertisement for Space Camp in the 80’s, was you get to go in that “spin around” thing. I thought that was astronaut training as well.

Jeremiah Owyang: Yeah! I mean, the skills that astronauts need replicate the skills that we need for life. I think the astronaut of today is going to need skills like horticulture, biology, and other things related to engineering and building, that were different from the first explorers, who, not to diminish them in any way, were voyagers. They had to test first could a dog survive in space, and then, could a human survive, and then could we land and also depart. The next set of astronauts are going to be not only explorers, but also colonists, and that is something that humans have yet to do.

Amazing CanCan: That is so true, its a different skill set. I was trying to research, while you guys were in Iceland, why did the Apollo astronauts go to all of these places? I learned that they spent basically a full two years traveling non-stop. And they traveled all over the world to study, not only geology, because they didn’t know what they would find, but they also studied survival in different climates. They were trying to be ready for everything, so they studied desert stuff, tundra stuff, ocean stuff.
When I interviewed Alfredo he made the point that even if you aren’t one of the ones stepping on the moon, you can’t have only one guy who knows how to do each thing on the team. Everyone is going to have to know how to do everything, because of the unpredictable nature.

Jeremiah Owyang: That is true. We learn from each other as well, on the team. Alfredo has a background in astrophysics, so he taught us things, I have studied a little bit on survival skills, and the other team members had some survival training that we kind of all glued together to create a make-shift structure in a very short period of time.

Amazing CanCan: Now that you have had this hands-on training, are there any skills that you saw that maybe you wouldn’t have previously considered as being astronaut skills?

Jeremiah Owyang: The Space Nation Navigator App has some training quizzes that prepared and primed me in team building skills. One of the questions was, “What is the order of priority while making decisions?” I got it wrong at first, but the answer was to first consider the TEAM, secondly consider the SHIP, and lastly consider the MISSION.
We discussed this as a team because we assumed we would be judged on that, so that helped us to prioritize.
We were given two climbing ropes and a book on tying knots when we were in the van. It was pretty clear they had the intent of making us repel using safety lines, so we brushed up on our skills to do some half hitches and I taught some folks to bowline, so just knot training was critical.
Alfredo was a boy scout, and one of the gals was a girl scout, so we put all of that together. It was really interesting to put all of that together.

Amazing CanCan: You keep referencing “the team,” so, for the listeners, how long had you known the other members of the team?

Jeremiah Owyang: Oh gosh, I only met them that day. We didn’t know each other before, but leading up to the event I got to check out each of their social media profiles and learn a little about their background and what makes them tick. We didn’t really know each other that well and had to learn about each other on the fly. We gelled really well and worked together really well. Culturally we are all from different places. AlexAlex Galaxy is Finnish-African-American from New York, Nienke is Dutch living in London, Alfredo is Italian living in London, and we all have really wild backgrounds, so it was great to learn from each other.

Amazing CanCan: What would you say to someone who thinks that space is not relevant to their lives or that astronaut skills are not something that should be on their radar?

Jeremiah Owyang: It is easy to dismiss astronaut skills, because in reality, less than 1% of 1% of this generation will be astronauts. But the skills are directly applicable. We are actually already astronauts on a space ship, a planet hurtling through the universe in a wild orbit, and we only have one space ship. We need to keep maintaining it and fixing it and improving it, just like the astronauts in the ISS, those same skills need to be applied on spaceship Earth. For the survival of the creatures here, we need to understand how it works, take care of it, maintain it, and improve it. We are all astronauts already.

Amazing CanCan: Which of the missions stand out to you?

Jeremiah Owyang: One mission tested dexterity, a puzzle in a bottle like a parlor game. One mission was piloting an actual drone that is being tested by NASA scientists. We used a small device to control it, and there was a delay, just as there would be. We navigated with a tiny little camera around a very martian-looking landscape. When you see the photos, it really looks like Mars, with steam-vents, large mountains behind it, and it really looks red. It really looks like a Martian landscape. That tested how we would deal with crude technology in a harsh landscape, when your perspective is all off.

Another mission was, half of the team suited up in the space suits, and the other half of the team communicated how to assemble a small “satellite” (an IKEA lamp). We only had a crude set of instructions that wasn’t very descriptive. We had to tell the other person, without them seeing the instructions, how to assemble the item. It was a task in futility. There was a delay, and wind knocking things over, simulating how difficult it is to coordinate and communicate. We had to come up with a system and a communications protocol.

Another mission was a test of our survival skills. We were dropped in the harsh Icelandic dessert with nothing. They stripped us of our bags, and our phones, and said we were crash landed and would not be rescued for weeks, so we had to work together and manage resources. They did plant a few items, that were extremely helpful, that we were able to use to construct a crude fort.

The last mission, and the most scary and dramatic, that made my heart rate go up, was that they said, prepare yourself, its going to be cold, don’t drink any alcohol, you need to be ready. And we thought, “Oh god, what is going to happen?”
We pulled up to a volcanic ridge, and were told, “Almost all astronauts know how to fly, today is your day. You are jumping off this volcano in 15 minutes on a parasail.”

Amazing CanCan: Oh wow!

Jeremiah Owyang: And we did! And sometimes its better you don’t know what is about to happen, because you would sit all day in dread.

Amazing CanCan: You would have dreaded that for weeks.

Jeremiah Owyang: Yeah I would have dreaded that for weeks. But it is a beautiful experience when you are flying and the sun is still out at 10pm, and the sunset takes 2-3 hours to happen in beautiful northern Iceland. And there are steaming vents around us, and color, and just riding the air, it was a beautiful thing.

Amazing CanCan: From your experience, where else can you picture a Space on Earth experience?

Jeremiah Owyang: I think the very barren environments make a lot of sense, obviously Iceland looks volcanic. When you scan the horizon you literally see craters and calderas in all directions, something I would expect an asteroid-pocked moon would look like. The red rock, too, you can also find that in Hawaii. I could imagine in a barren desert as well, with very little vegetation. Those are all great examples. Frankly, on Mars they are going to be looking for snow to melt the snow and use it as H2O and O2. So in a frozen tundra, or even in the ice of a glacier, those could examples. But finally, on Mars we are probably go to go subterranean, so its possible this could happen under the ground.

Amazing CanCan: You could do that almost anywhere on Earth, under the ground. It would just be less Instagram-able.

Jeremiah Owyang: Right! I think you could. Not quite as fun of an experience though! I feel very privileged to have gone through this radical experience.

I’ve gotten a lot of questions on social media, from people wanting to do it. It is truly a life-changing experience that I will never forget. I think this would be a wonderful experience for other people to partake in. It was really masterfully crafted, and with the experiences, I was glad to be one of the first civilians to trial such a thing. It was really an amazing experience.

Amazing CanCan: Where can we find you online?

Jeremiah Owyang: Twitter: JOwyang, you can also search my full name on Facebook where there are discussions happening around science and tech in business and society.

Amazing CanCan: Thank you so much for sharing your experience with us today!

Jeremiah Owyang: Thank you!

Amazing CanCan: This has been Orbit Waves with your host Amazing CanCan. Connect with us online at Space Nation Orbit, @SpaceNationOrb on Twitter, and @SpaceNationOrbit on Instagram.