„Overview Effect“ – The entrepreneurial ventures of Lutz & Lin Kayser
It might come as a surprise to many – but Elon Musk has not invented private aerospace manufacturing. In fact, the mission architecture of Space X is three decades younger than the mind-blowing accomplishments of Swabian entrepreneur Lutz Kayser. With a dedicated group of engineers, he founded OTRAG, the „Orbital Transport and Rocket Stock Corporation“ which came to be known as the world's first private space company in 1975.
As a test site, Lutz Kayser leased 100,000 square kilometers of land amidst the wilds of Congo / Zaire, where the OTRAG could build its own spaceport. The "German Cape Canaveral" even included its own butchery, a marijuana plantation and – a professional film team whose vintage 16mm material fell into the hands of a German documentarist.
Oliver Schwehm had originally searched the internet for the derivation of the name „Ariane“ when the birth of his daughter was due. „Of course, I came across the Ariane rocket. At some point I read about a competition project called OTRAG which I first thought was a hoax. It sounded so crude and incredible that I started researching right away – and have not really stopped since then.“
His documentary „Fly Rocket Fly“ (www.otrag.com) first opened at the Munich Filmfest 2018 and contains original film material that navigates an unbelievable story between broomsticks, budgets, and bushland. A retrospective adventure cruise begins in the Congolese jungle, for which Lutz Kayser signed a contract with the African dictator Mobutu Sese Seko, and turns into a successful launch coverage of several rockets. When a foreign affairs crisis ensues, however, the space flight venture becomes a political thriller. For all cineasts, the film music is fantastic additional value; it was released on Bureau B with featured songs by the likes of ESB, Camera, Conrad Schnitzler, Günter Schickert, Die Wilde Jagd, as well as new productions from film composer Heiko Maile. Oliver Schwehm’s film captures it all: An unbelievable adventure, technical achievements and diplomatic turmoil, emphasized by a immensely well-crafted soundtrack.
With OTRAG being the first commercial developer of space launch vehicles, Lutz Kayser became a protagonist who still seems relevant in the light of current developments of private aerospace companies. His legacy also inspired his nephew Lin Kayser, whose mission is to reinvent the way objects are manufactured, by using industrial 3D printers. Among others, his company Hyperganic has collaborated with a Bavarian space start up to re-think its rocket engines. PLASMA magazine talked to Lin Kayser about serendipity, his creative manifesto and the sensation of space.
PLASMA: Lin, what is your earliest memory of your uncle? Would you suggest that encountering his pioneering spirit may have inspired you?
Lin Kayser: The funny thing is that kids perceive everything around them as „normal“. I grew up seeing pictures of rocket launches hanging in my grandma's living room. I wasn’t aware that people usually hang photos of their grandchildren. I was surrounded by a rather unconventional family. My uncle founded the first private space company, my father was a painter and sculptor. When I started school, my classmates often laughed at me, because they thought I was inventing stories every time I told them about rockets and space. If you ask about the beginning of my own entrepreneurial journey, then it is ultimately due to the fact that early on, I learned to take the initiative and to occupy myself with my own projects.
PLASMA: When the recent Bavarian space program became public, many discussed and questioned the purpose. "Why spend millions of euros on space and invest in rockets, if you could also put money into medical innovation, education and child care?“ Can you relate to those reactions?
Lin Kayser: This discussion is very important, but it is as old as space exploration itself. I think there are two sides to it. Firstly, many people still do not understand that space does not equal science fiction. We walked on the moon fifty years ago, and today anyone with a smartphone connects to GPS satellites as they walk out the door. Yet many people keep forgetting, there is a real world is outside planet Earth. Secondly, they think of the US, or maybe Russia, when it comes to space, although German engineers and scientists are among the very top in space technology. Many of them work for companies like SpaceX. Especially Bavaria has a long history in space. So a space program like Bavaria One makes a lot of sense.
PLASMA: Are you under the impression that Lutz Kayser had the same discussions, one generation earlier?
Lin Kayser: Sure, yes. He might have had the advantage that his generation was inspired by the moon landing. Out of this enthusiasm came not only his own interest, but also a spirit of optimism. The „Europarakete“, which later became the Ariane, was built around that time. That's why the discussion was perhaps a bit easier at first, but of course he was faced with the same skepticism. Space travel at that time was a matter of nation states. And a young man saying „I will build rockets and shoot them into space, to rival the Americans and the Russians" seemed, of course, absurd. Even more absurd than today, where thanks to people like Elon Musk or Jeff Bezos, it has become reality. – However, one of the most interesting aspects of my uncle’s company was that Lutz did crowdsourcing in the 1970s. He raised 250 Million Deutsche Mark from hundreds of private investors, like dentists and small business owners. He had a knack for it. He was able to inspire people. Space, if anything, is a field in which you see stars in people’s eyes when you talk about it.
PLASMA: Could you imagine Lutz Kayser sitting on your board at Hyperganic?
Lin Kayser: Well, he was quite a character, to be fair. I am not sure if I would really have wanted him on my board. Rather as a mentor, somebody to speak to. In a way, it was both luck and misfortune that I did not get to see him often. I would have liked to have many more conversations with him. The distance, on the other hand, allowed me to focus on the positive aspects of his personality.
PLASMA: Can you explain why you are not running a space company, as he did, and differentiate your own venture?
Lin Kayser: After selling my last company, it became important to me that the next project would have to unite all of my interests. I am passionate about sustainability, I love creativity, and I have worked in technology all my life. There was a lot of serendipity involved. When I came across 3D printing in 2012, I started to see the potential to fundamentally change how we produce almost any physical object. It is really the first time in history that we invented a completely new production process. We have the opportunity to use more sustainable materials, less energy, and it is a tool that allows us to create breakthroughs in engineering.
PLASMA: How does space technology come into play here?
Lin Kayser: The space sector is a very attractive one, because 3D printing enables the building of objects with significant weight savings. It is also a field where people are willing to invest in new technology. Other interesting fields are the medical industry, where breakthroughs can be literally life-saving.
PLASMA: In addition to the CTO Michael Gallo, Duy Anh Pham is Director of Design and a part of the founding team, which is not typical for a technology company. Do design principles shape your core values?
Lin Kayser: A designer does much more than just make things look more beautiful. So Duy Anh Pham has an interesting core role in the company, thinking about how we should describe objects in general. In the algorithmic design process, can we maybe create a new definition of beauty? And, since the object is digitally created anyway, can we make beauty and elegance an fundamental design principle, even if we build a technical object? In our company’s DNA we need software developers, and engineers, but also someone who translates it all.
PLASMA: Speaking about beauty and space: Can you explain why people have a primal instinct to perceive phenomena of the universe as beautiful? Something like the blood moon, but also star constellations, or occurrences that often resemble very small particles of our human biology.
Lin Kayser: The moon has always fascinated people. When events like a lunar eclipse happen, people get the feeling that the moon is not just a random bright light hanging in the sky. They grasp that this celestial body rotates around the earth 384,400 kilometers away and interacts with our lives. In moments like these, we humans experience that we are part of a whole. This understanding has made us fly to space in the first place. Image how it first must have felt, when the Apollo 8 crew first saw the blue marble surrounded by black infinity, under this incredibly thin, fragile atmosphere! This overwhelming awareness is still sparked today by natural phenomena. Once you’ve stood under a starry sky in the great outdoors, totally carried away by the Milky Way, you know what it is like to feel very small.
PLASMA: Would you agree to compare the "Overview Effect“, that astronauts have when they first get the overall view of planet Earth, with your entrepreneurial vision? I can imagine that it has a similar effect on Hyperganic. In a sense that you can take a step back and realize, "Oh, that's the entirety of all production processes," and suddenly new prospects open up.
Lin Kayser: As long as I can remember, whenever I was down in the details, I took a step back to look at the big picture, and find the patterns that make up the whole. You cannot approach the challenge of engineering much more fundamentally than we do at Hyperganic. Ultimately, you are talking about a platform where we can change the design of almost any object currently being created. The fundamental principles of 3D printers are not that different and the spectrum of materials that can be used, is extremely broad. So we have the unique opportunity to build the one platform that ties all of this together, whether it is the medical field, aerospace, or essentially all fields of engineering.
PLASMA: The rocket engine that you printed on an EOS metal printer, creates an incredible WOW effect, for example during your TEDx Talk in Munich. On the one hand, because it is a sexy rocket engine. On the other hand, because of its incredibly fascinating way it was produced. You kind of spark a double enthusiasm for the fact that the mantra "form follows function" is reinterpreted.
Lin Kayser: 3D printing is a bit like sprinkling fairy dust. (laughs) You take stardust, from which something new emerges. Watching a 3D printer is great — a laser beam melts metal powder, and in a matter of hours, something incredibly complex is produced. It's like magic.
PLASMA: Does space hold inspiration for young people, in your opinion?
Lin Kayser: I truly believe that the moment we stop reaching for the stars and opening new frontiers, then our society will stagnate. When we start thinking about space travel, we have to ask a lot of interesting questions. What awaits us in the universe? Will we come up with new types of governments there? What will it do for our consciousness? Space technology is already essential and has helped us immensely in our practical life, but above all, it philosophically raised us to a whole new level. The most beautiful picture really is "Earthrise", taken 50 years ago. This photograph has led to the environmental movement, and has strengthened organizations like the United Nations. It has made us realize that we all live on an amazing planet, but also how lonely we are in this vast universe. This idea unites us as humans. Space travel reminds us that we are one humanity, not a bunch of individuals.
PLASMA: In contrast to your earlier statement, looking at the stars can also excite us to feel incredibly important. Do you think this perspective can inspire us to look after the planet responsibly?
Lin Kayser: It is such a miracle we exist! I am sure of it – if we saw the starry sky every night, we would treat our planet differently.Zum Original