Rick Tumlinson is, in some ways, a man who will not be contained by this planet. With a reputation for shaking things up, Tumlinson, a self-described child of "Star Trek" and the Apollo moon exploration missions, has sought for nearly three decades to open up space to the average man a goal that now seems very possible. He dropped out of college because, as he puts it, "I kept getting into arguments with my professors," and felt constrained by an institutional education system. He began to associate with a growing community of people who believed space could be accessible to everyone someday and would dedicate their lives to making that happen sooner rather than later. Tumlinson has spent the ensuing years testifying before Congress, working for non-profits and starting niche companies in the hope of translating this dream into reality. Recently, wealthy entrepreneurs like Richard Branson and Elon Musk have given legitimacy to his endeavors and, indeed, the whole commercial space industry. Tumlinson, who was a founding trustee of the X Prize which awarded $10 million in 2004 to Burt Rutan for his commercial space vehicle owns Orbital Outfitters, a North Hollywood-based commercial space-suit maker. Even more unusual is his latest venture, Space Diver, which is working to create a suit that would allow astronauts to re-enter the Earth's atmosphere without a ship.


Question: When did you first realize you wanted to dedicate so much of your life to developing the commercial space industry?


Answer: Back in the '70s there was a guy named Gerry O'Neill, who wrote a book called "The High Frontier." In that book, he laid out the concept of the private sector going into space. It had great appeal for me, because what it did was it brought together the green side of what was countercultural at the time sort of the anti-technology side with the technology side. So it wasn't green vs. high-tech, it wasn't right wing vs. left, or anything like that. It was all rolled together.


Q: How is commercial space travel related to the environmental movement?


A: The more people you cram into a limited space, such as a closed sphere like the planet, the less and less resources there are for those people. So your future starts to look like an ever-narrowing vista. The interesting thing is when you break out of that cage which is largely mental vis- & #341;-vis how we look at the future, all of a sudden everything is exactly the opposite. The vista opens up wider and we become capable of all kinds of things. Hope is reborn, the future can be bigger for the succeeding generations rather than smaller, more resources become available, including energy, territory, the ability to do new things.


Q: So are you an environmentalist?


A: I actually went to work for Greenpeace when I got out of college, but I couldn't handle it because (the philosophy) was like, "Smaller is better and let's all go wear moccasins in the woods." It's not tenable, it doesn't work, it doesn't provide for a better future.


Q: Did your background help you get into this field?


A: I have a very general background. I've had a background in fine arts. I've had a background in science. I've had a background in writing, media. I was heavily raised reading science fiction and science fact.


Q: How did you end up in this field?


A: I moved to New York City and I actually took a course called "Landmark." It jolted me into deciding I wanted to do something really important with my life. I was looking around at the time the environmental movement was going on, there was a distrust of government very much like today. I heard a lecture on the idea that humanity could move into space not leave the planet, just going beyond the planet. I heard that the technology was possible, the engineering was possible.


Q: What kind of a student were you?


A: I was a bit of a rebel in school. I ended up dropping out of college. I quit. I kept getting into arguments with my professors. The way I look at universities, largely, is once you get past basic knowledge, it is basically a case of regurgitating history and I'm not about regurgitating history, I'm about creating the future.


Q: You must see some good in general education.


A: There's a lot to be said for learning the basics. But once you get past that point I think it's all about creativity and innovation. I kept running into that in the schools I was in. They really weren't willing to listen. I think that creative ideas are very rarely right or wrong. They're either accepted or not accepted in the culture. They either work or they don't work. Right or wrong isn't very relevant.


Q: Where do you fit in?


A: I said I'm going to create a company that specializes in new ideas and innovation, but does it in a way that is based on a foundation of bedrock stability. In other words, I'm going to create a high-risk company based on safety. They sound completely opposite, but if you think about it, it is all around. Nascar racing high risk, safety. It's all about safety, but it's all about taking risks. The people are trained to take risks. So what I did was I looked at extreme sports. My company is called Extreme Space; that's the holding company. At Extreme Space, the goal was to create a project called Space Diver.


Q: What is that?


A: It has two aspects to it: How do we get people out of these vehicles in an emergency alive and how do we create the most extreme sport ever in human history?


Q: Were you involved with any other space-related companies?


A: I helped found one called Luna Corp., where the idea was to put commercial rovers on the moon. That was in the mid-'90s. Unfortunately, the cost of going to the moon, because it was driven by the cost of government rockets, prohibited us from being able to come up with commercial things to do on the moon. The last thing that we did do was we put the first ever commercial in space. That was a Radio Shack commercial on the International Space Station. Before that, I was part of a company called Micro Satellite Launch Systems. And I was the first space consultant for the Sci Fi Channel.


Q: What do you think about this whole new crop of private space companies?


A: It's a mix. Look, I've been in this field 25 years and I've seen many companies come and go. What's interesting this time around is we've got a lot of companies that are being founded by people with their own money. Richard Branson is building Virgin Galactic. Jeff Bezos from Amazon is building a rocket ship. Elon Musk, here in L.A., the founder of PayPal, is building a rocket down here in El Segundo.


Q: Are they giving legitimacy to the industry?


A: These are not pie-in-the-sky guys; these are real players. There's a bunch of them. They believe that dream. Underneath, they believe in the dream of human beings living beyond the planet.


Q: Do you get much free time?


A: It's really hard when you're a cause-oriented guy to have a hobby other than your cause. My cause is my life. But I like aquariums and high-end, exotic tropical fish. If you look at it, aquariums are closed life-support systems. It's a spaceship in reverse. I actually have one aquarium setup that has just the right balance of fish and plants in it that I don't even feed it. I don't ever have to feed it: The fish live off the plants and the defecation of the fish feeds the system and the plants live off that. That's a space station right there.


Q: Do you have any non-space hobbies?


A: If I have any other hobbies it's fast cars, antique cars. I love working on cars. And four-wheeling. And writing. It's a weird mix, but that's what you get.

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