Daily Archives: February 22, 2010

Rocket Man Dreams of Mars

Meet Jesco.

Jesco Von Puttkamer trying out space suit

Jesco Von Puttkamer trying out space suit

German-born Jesco Von Puttkamer came to NASA 48 years ago to build rockets with legendary Wernher Von Braun. I’ve known Jesco for almost 20 years now, since I first came up to NASA Headquarters in Washington D.C. from the Johnson Space Center in Houston.

What can I say about Jesco? He’s a force to be reckoned with. I’ve known him as one who stands his ground. I’ll leave it at that.

In the 1990’s, I worked in international relations at NASA Headquarters as the German Desk Officer.  In this job, I witnessed Jesco’s rock star status in Germany. Everywhere I went, the German’s wanted to know if I knew Jesco or if I could get Jesco to come speak at their events.

So why am I introducing you to Jesco now?

Simple. Jesco and I spoke on the “Future Directions” panel at the International Space University’s “Public Face of Space” Symposium last week in Strasbourg, France. His talk moved me to tears.

Here’s what I learned about Jesco last week that I never knew:

Jesco’s unfulfilled dream=GO TO MARS!

Jesco to Mars

Tweet about Jesco's passion for Mars.

Who knew? I always understood he liked to build rockets and track Space Station. But Mars? Wow. Somehow I missed the destination-side of who Jesco is.

I like to think of Jesco as the Forest Gump of space — always right on the fringes of every historical moment. Prime example: Take a look at this picture of President Kennedy touring the Space Center with Wernher Von Braun. Jesco stood on the street corner as the car drove past.

Jesco snapped this pic from the street corner.

President Kennedy with Wernher Von Braun.

I’d never caught his passion before. Jesco’s presentation took us back to his years at the Marshall Space Flight Center, the very center of the space universe, the birthplace of all things space — until, that is, we learned the Soviet Union had their own space Capitol where they worked as feverishly as the Von Braun team to be #1 in space.

Space race news articles

Space Race

Here is Jesco on his first day on the job.

Young Jesco on his first day on the job.

Young Jesco on his first day on the job.

He spoke passionately about how he took no vacation for eight years because he feared missing an exciting breakthrough. None of the team wanted to go home at night. (Let’s not talk about the toll on their families.) The point of his talk: we can’t go forward without understanding where we’re coming from.

Rocket guys married to the job.

Rocket guys married to the job.

I knew Jesco was passionate about the past. That wasn’t news to me. What utterly shocked me was his passion for the future. I’d never connected his love of all things space to a particular destination — Mars. And to see his face light up when he spoke of it, reminded me of the little boy in him dreaming of what might be someday.

I knew Jesco, the pragmatist. I’d never before seen this Jesco. Jesco, the dreamer.

I write this post as my way of saying thanks to Jesco for all his dedication and sacrifice and passion for the journey to the great unknown we know as space. During the Q&A portion of our Future Directions panel, I liked his response to the question, “Why space? Why bother?” (My paraphrase.)

“We establish the frontier, step over it, and push the frontier out even further.”

Thanks Jesco for pushing the space frontier out even further to get us closer to your passion: Mars.

His presentation will be available on the International Space University website. For more tweets from the ISU conference, I created an archive.

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