Space Pioneer's Advice: Think Crazy and Then Do It

Space Pioneer’s Advice: Think Crazy and Then Do It

One UCF grad is making headlines for taking one crazy idea and making it happen.

Jason Dunn is co-founder of Made in Space, a company that is working with NASA to place a 3-D printer on the International Space Station. A 3-D printer in space would cut down on expensive resupply missions and would be mankind’s first foray into manufacturing off world. It’s a necessary step to multi-planetary colonization, he said.

Trekkies can think about this as a prototype of a Star Trek replicator. Yeah, sounds crazy, Dunn admits, but coming up with crazy ideas and going after them has been the key to success for this engineering alumus.

“You could email the specs for a spare part to the printer on the space station,” Dunn told a crowd of students listening to his talk sponsored by the Engineering Leadership and Innovation Institute (eli2) at the College of Engineering and Computer Science. “Think about that. Crazy, right. Well, that’s exactly what we will be doing.”

Made in Space is now it is in the final stages of testing the specially designed spce 3-D printer and it is scheduled for launch on a Space X rocket ship in 2014.

So how did this  ’07 and ’09 aerospace engineering alumus succeed so quickly?

“Set something so wild that people will think you are crazy,” he told the students. “Then do it.”

Dunn shared how he had dreamed of working on the Space Shuttle program while he attended UCF.  When he interned at the Kennedy Space Center he got the opportunity to crawl around the guts of Shuttle Discovery, which cemented his passion for space. But he also saw the start of the layoffs that would culminate with the retirement of the shuttle program .

“I was crushed,” Dunn said. “I had planned my whole life to work for NASA, but through the internship I figured out a very important lesson. It’s not so important what you do for a living as it is what you’re living to do.”

He decided that rather than find another space-related employer, he’d envision a future in space and then work to make it a reality.  He’s off to a great start, having already launched two successful companies, one even before graduating from UCF.

In 2008, Dunn formed Earthrise Space Inc. to give students first-hand experience building real space missions. The company entered the Google Lunar X Prize competition, which will give a private company that lands a robot on the moon $30 million. On the way to doing that, Earthrise landed a NASA contract worth up to $10 million. In 2010, Dunn launched Made in Space and he also began work with Moon Express, another company going after the Google Lunar X prize competition. In 2013, Dunn left Moon Express to dedicate his time to Made in Space at NASA Ames Research Park in Moffett Field, Calif.

As work on the 3-D printer intensified and began passing NASA testing hurdles, word got out. In the past few months he’s been quoted on CNN, Huffington Post, Chicago Tribune and many others as reporters have started telling the story of a 3-D printer in space and how it could revolutionize space exploration.

Dunn spent an afternoon with his alma mater this month to share his story and to help inspire students to dream big and turn those dreams into reality.

Among his tips for success:

  • Technology is advancing at an accelerated rate. Don’t let it leapfrog you.
  • Anticipate change and use it to change the world.
  • The best opportunities in college will happen outside the classroom.
  • It’s important to have mentors.
  • Failure is an option, but persistence to the point of success is mandatory.
  • Dare to do crazy things.
  • Don’t be afraid to kill a few giants.
  • Disrupt yourself before others do, which goes hand in hand with anticipating change and using it to change the world.

So how did it all start for Dunn? It was a walk through the Engineering II building back in summer 2005. He found a flier about the Students for the Exploration and Development of Space club, but first  thought it was a model-rocket club. It was much more.  It led to the formation of Earthrise and  was the first outside–the-classroom opportunity he took, Dunn said. He went on to earn a bachelor’s and master’s degree in aerospace engineering at UCF.

Dunn never looked back. He said he always looks forward, trying to anticipate what will come next. Made in Space is already thinking about what comes after the 3-D printer in space and the colonization of a few planets, he told the group.

Crazy yes, and that’s the way he likes it.

eli2was developed based on input from engineering leaders in the corporate, government and academic sectors to prepare UCF engineering and computer science students to be technical leaders and lifelong learners.

The institute strives to transform students so they can easily transition from the classroom to the workforce with sought-after proficiencies. Students are taught to collaborate and work effectively in teams, make impactful presentations, communicate with polished speaking and writing skills, and contribute with ethical responsibility and knowledge of global issues.