Famed Doctor and Astronaut Talks About
Changes Facing NASA, Entrepreneurship Spirit
Speaking to a packed auditorium at the Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship’s Distinguished Entrepreneur Speaker Series on April 15, Bernard Harris told students, “You can do anything you want to do in life. Go out and do it.”
They’ve heard it before, but coming from Harris – an accomplished physician, astronaut, venture capitalist and philanthropist all before the age of 53 – it’s a convincing message.
With four academic degrees, two from the University of Houston, Harris has already accomplished much of what he has wanted to do in life. After becoming a practicing physician, Harris joined NASA and completed two walks in space. His studies during that time focused on the advancement of telemedicine – a field that gives patients the ability to receive remote medical care. His discoveries have improved the quality of medical care for astronauts in space, prolonging the length of their stays.
When Harris decided he wanted to invest in the technologies he was studying, a mentor advised him to get his MBA. Today, he owns Vesalius Ventures and has helped numerous clients grow multi-million dollar operations in the field of telemedicine.
“I tell you my background to remind you of who you are,” Harris said. “You are multi-potential, multi-faceted, multi-talented people. When life beats us down, we forget how powerful we are. Remember – you have many talents and many abilities as an individual. Not just one.”
Harris described watching the moon landing on a black-and-white TV as a young boy and thinking, “That looks like fun.” The biggest mistake people make, he said, is dismissing their childhood dreams and aspirations.
“You’ll be surprised how many people stay in one profession their entire life and never do what they wanted to do because they are afraid to step out.”
“Those of you who are in business cannot be in business if you are afraid of risks. Those of you who are in life, which is all of you, know that life is a risk too. Don’t go through your life saying ‘if only I could have done this or that.’ Go out and do it. That’s what life is all about.”
The talk coincided with an epoch juncture in the history of U.S. space exploration. Just hours before the event, President Obama spoke to a concerned crowd at Kennedy Space Center about his plans to shut down the shuttle program and move toward a privately funded model to send humans to asteroids and to Mars.
“We are at a turning point, or an inflection point. Things are about to change, and in a positive way, I believe,” Harris said.
He explained, “With privatization comes the opportunity for entrepreneurship, a chance for business people, like you, to get involved in space exploration. It’s a natural progression, and after 50 years of being in space, I say it’s about time.”
Addressing those in the audience whose friends and family work at Johnson Space Center, Harris said, “Tell your father, tell everyone, to take a deep breath, and let things work themselves out in the next few months.”
“Not all of those jobs are going to be lost. Human space exploration will continue,” he assured. “When it’s all said and done, I think what we will see is a changing of smocks. Employees will go from working as a contractor for NASA to working at whatever company takes the lead in building the next heavy lift vehicle, and NASA will be the client.”
Harris noted the hundreds of inventions we owe to the space program, such as medical imaging, non-invasive endoscopy and implantable devices (like pacemakers and insulin pumps).
“Since technology is so readily available, we often forget where it comes from. The reason this country has done so well is because it is a country of innovators.”
“I like the discussion that is happening right now around the cancellation of the constellation program because for the first time in years people are talking about the space program. People want to make sure American maintains a manned space program, and I think that’s good. “
By Lori Reichardt