I grew up with middle class parents in rural Oregon, with some of my earliest memories being Star Trek, the Apollo 17 launch, and reading classic science fiction. As far as I know, I've always been interested in science and technology. I thought that by the time I was an adult, there would be plenty of work for electrical engineers in space, and I liked circuits, so I studied engineering, and took vocational electronics training while in elementary and middle school. That was when I realized that part of what was missing in the NASA/Star Trek kind of space vision was - how was this going to get paid for? I found the work of Gerard O'Neill that began looking for answers to that question. It didn't seem necessary to me to work on space transportation then as the Shuttle promised to dramatically reduce spaceflight costs.
At Caltech, in the fall of 1985, I heard about the near-burn through on an O-ring of the Space Shuttle, and when, a few months later, Challenger was lost, I was shocked. I'd sat in on lectures by Feynman, and when his reports from the Rogers commission came out, I began to realize that NASA's challenges were much deeper than just their level of funding. I graduated in 1988 and went to work for Intel, initially doing chip design, then managing a group working on chip making technologies. After a few years, I was part of a small group that recommended what technologies we would and wouldn't include in a chip making process, which taught me a lot about managing a technology portfolio so that billion dollar bets would pay off, in an environment where sticking with tried and true methods would lose to competitors.
When the DC-X effort started, it really opened my eyes that perhaps the cost and schedule of NASA projects were artifacts of NASA and its structure and constraints, not necessarily of the physics involved. I became one of the citizens talking to my Congressional representatives about the program. That led to my attending the Space Access conference in 1994, and I realized then that if space made money, we'd do a lot more of it - and that I wanted to work on that field. I joined AIAA and began teaching myself aerospace engineering in evenings and weekends. In 1997 I was asked to join Rotary Rocket, managing their rocket development program. While there, I put a team together that learned how to do liquid rocket engines from old NASA reports and papers.
In 1999, Rotary Rocket laid off me and my team as they ran low on money; I and three others then founded XCOR Aerospace, with a goal of developing reusable rocket vehicles that would fly frequently with a small crew, first for suborbital markets, with the goal of later scaling to orbital systems. I was CEO and responsible for raising the money, managing the company, and leading the technical team. That included eleven different long-life reusable rocket engine designs, and two demonstration vehicles based on aircraft - the EZ-Rocket and the X-Racer, which demonstrated over 66 flights a per flight cost of $900/flight for a manned rocket, a ten-minute time to service a vehicle for re-flight, and 7 flights in one day. I also worked with the United Launch Alliance on a commercial LOX/LH2 engine project.
From 1998 on, I've been involved in the U.S. regulatory regime for commercial space, starting with public comments on FAA regulations, then membership in COMSTAC. I saw that further development was needed, and used the EZ-Rocket to set precedents which helped start the development of the Commercial Space Launch Amendments Act of 2004, which codified a framework I had laid out for a human spaceflight regulatory regime. That in turn led to a clear need for an industry trade association, and I was one of the co-founders of the PSF, later the Commercial Spaceflight Federation, and one if its directors for many years. In part from that I know many of the senior figures at most of the leading U.S. commercial space companies. In that framework, I was involved again in the SPACE act of 2015 and H.R. 2809 in 2017.
In 2009 I served on the Augustine committee, examining alternatives for U.S. human spaceflight strategy at NASA. After that effort concluded, I continued to work with industry figures to develop policy alternatives. I have come to understand that NASA offers the United States policy tools as part of our overall strategy in space which we are not fully exploiting.
In 2015, after shareholders brought a new CEO in to XCOR, I eventually departed. Since then, I have served as CEO of Agile Aero, a company developing aerospace rapid prototyping technologies, and through which I have also offered consulting services to other space companies. Starting in February 2016 I have also served as CTO of Electric Sky, where I have invented a number of new wireless power transfer technologies for unconventional space launch and other purposes. And since July 2016 I have served as chairman of the Board of the Tau Zero Foundation, a non-profit developing advanced propulsion technologies with relevance to both advanced near-term missions and long-term potential for interstellar probes. The Tau Zero Foundation is also laying out options to U.S. policy makers for very frequent, small payload, unconventional launch strategies to enable affordable space strategies such as boost-phase missile defense.