Happy World Space Week: Life Imitates Star Wars


I felt like I was sitting in the Imperial Senate.

Kofi Annan stepped up to the podium at the United Nations with a planetary orbits logo behind him surrounded by the U.N. Olive Branches and addressed the national delegations about the importance of space exploration. The delegations sat behind their country’s nameplates, in traditional dress, some with headphones offering translations into other languages.

It was here in Vienna, Austria in 1999 that World Space Week (October 4-10) was born. It had been the suggestion of our ragtag bunch of rebel youth who had flown in from 60 countries to lobby the delegations at the meeting.

Many of these starry-eyed rebels were raised on Star Wars. We have never known a world without it. It influences our philosophy, our technology, and our politics. Many of us even studied science and engineering to help Earth advance as a space-faring civilization and enable our own space ambitions. Many of our colleagues did the same.

I remember once circa 2002 being at Elon Musk’s house just as he was starting SpaceX. I went up to him during cocktails and asked, “So, is your Falcon rocket named after the Millennium Falcon?” to which he shyly shrugged and said, “Of course.” When I asked why that wasn’t mentioned in any of the articles about it he said, “No one has ever asked.”

(Luckily, they’ve started to now.)

So when you see pictures of yesterday’s Falcon 9 launch — on its second mission to carry cargo to the International Space Station — ask yourself, “Yes, but what are they carrying in the smugglers compartments!”

Another friend of ours, Chris Lewicki — who was Flight Director for the NASA Mars Spirit and Opportunity rovers — went on recently to head another space company, Planetary Resources. Before Planetary Resources made its asteroid-mining plans public in April of this year, it was operating in stealth mode under the name Arkyd Aeronautics, which was an obscure Star Wars Expanded Universe reference to Arakyd Industries: the developers of the droids that the Empire used on Hoth to find the Rebel Base. Before Arakyd Industries made exploration droids, the fictional company was known for its asteroid mining droids.

As for Virgin Galactic and its work to build a suborbital spaceship for paying passengers, it too has a bit of the Star Wars bug. The first time I walked up to the hanger doors on the Virgin Galactic ‘Gateway to Space’ Spaceport in southern New Mexico, all I could think of was that this looked like something you would find on Tatooine. I think it would be a huge opportunity missed to not put something akin to the Mos Eisley Cantina inside where weary space travellers could get a drink.

Although we have yet to raise an X-wing fighter out of a swamp or rescue a space princess from the Empire, we do still invoke our Star Wars heritage to help get us through long meetings, tedious co-workers, and seemingly insurmountable problems. We can often be heard reminding each other, “Do or do not, there is no try.” And, “Beware of the dark side. Anger, fear, aggression; the dark side are they…” And to be honest, it helps. Each day we rebels get a little closer to getting us to a galaxy far, far away.

And so as we join together around the planet in celebration of World Space Week, we humbly thank Star Wars for inspiring the hearts and lighting the fire that fuels so many of us working to make our space faring dreams real.

Loretta Whitesides is a Flight Attendant for Zero Gravity Corporation, a Virgin Galactic Founder Astronaut (customer), and the co-creator of Yuri’s Night, the Worldwide Space Party with her husband George (who is now the CEO of Virgin Galactic). In her previous lives she was an Astrobiologist, deep sea vent explorer, and Wired science blogger.