Reach for the stars

Lessons in passion and perseverance
Dr Chris Boshuizen (BSc (Hons) '00, PhD '07) is a physicist, space explorer, entrepreneur, venture capitalist and musician. His life's mission, 'to make getting to space as easy as catching a bus,' has fuelled a remarkable career.

From landing his dream job at NASA to co-founding Planet Labs and becoming the third Australian ever to venture into space, Chris shares three lessons in reaching for the stars:

1. Seize opportunities, especially the unexpected ones.

As a student, Chris Boshuizen jumped at any opportunity to find a way into the space industry. When his physics teacher, Professor Tim Bedding (BSc ’88, PhD ’93, GradCertEdStudies ’03), asked if he would help to design a satellite as a PhD project, he didn’t hesitate.

“I learned everything I needed to know about how satellites were designed, built, funded, manufactured and tested through that project,” Chris says. “It was a never–to–be–repeated opportunity.”

Professor Bedding also encouraged Chris to attend space conferences as a way of networking, and he eventually got his big break at the Space Generation Congress.

“The first year, I attended as a delegate. By the end of it, they had nominated me to run it the following year,” Chris says. “They forgot I was a delegate because I just showed up and started pitching in.” He volunteered at every Space Generation Congress for the next five years. It got him noticed. When NASA went on a hiring spree in 2007, Chris was top of mind.

2. Never think your ideas are stupid, no matter how stupid they actually are.

As a Space Mission Architect at NASA, Chris pursued new ideas with the agenda of ‘getting humanity to space’. Throwing out conventional thinking on satellite technology, he and his team had the idea to replace their costly computers with off-the-shelf smartphones. Surprisingly, it worked.

Chris went to NASA headquarters excited about the potential. “We got laughed out of the room,” he says. But the idea was the genesis of Chris’s next pivotal career move, leaving NASA to co- found Planet Labs and launching enough satellites into space to photograph every corner of Earth, every day. Today Planet Labs is the leading provider of Earth observation data.

3. Don’t doubt yourself. Be patient, and never give up.

At 17, Chris’s initial attempt at becoming an astronaut via the Air Force ended abruptly with the discovery that he was partially colourblind. Undeterred, he found an alternative pathway into the space industry by starting his own company – which ultimately enabled him to realise his dream of space travel at the age of 44.

He says he nagged US aerospace company Blue Origin about joining a flight for years, only to be brushed off repeatedly. But in 2021 he finally got the call. “They said, ‘Hey, you’ve been persistent.’

“One of my big realisations after the trip was, what if I had quit after 10 years? What if I had quit after 20 years? What if I had quit after 25 years? If you just keep going slowly, you’ll get there.”

After returning from space, Chris is even more determined to make space travel accessible. He has recently invested in a company that’s making inflatable space station habitats. The concept is like Planet Labs’ version of the International Space Station, aiming to reduce the cost of space travel by two or three zeros.

Written by Caitlin Player for Sydney Alumni Magazine. Photography supplied.

15 May 2024

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