2021, When Everything Changed

“The beauty of the unexpected lies within the surprise of the momentum, not only at its tipping point but also within all the moments waiting.” Akilnathan Logeswaran

In 1975, the Altair 8800 appeared on the cover of Popular Electronics with the following headline: “World’s First Minicomputer kit to Rival Commercial Models…”. While the machine started the personal computer revolution, it wasn’t until 1998, when Steve Jobs revealed the colorful iMac that the revolution became mainstream.

In 1983, the world got a glimpse of the future when Motorola unveiled the DynaTAC 8000X. Weighing a heavy 3/4 kg (almost 2 lbs) and measuring 25cm in length (10 inches), without the antenna, the “brick” was the first commercial portable cellphone. Even with a price tag of $3,995 ($10,688 in 2021 dollars), the device was revolutionary. In 1996, 13 years later, Motorola did it again with the StarTAC, one of the first mobile phones to gain widespread adoption — 60 million flip phones were sold. That year, the device appeared in the movie 8mm with Nicolas Cage and was featured in an American Express Gold Card advertising campaign. It is in 2007 though, 34 years after Martin Cooper, the senior engineer at Motorola who made history after calling a rival telecommunications company from a mobile phone, that the future became reality with the arrival of the iPhone.

Russian Yuri Gagarin turned into an international celebrity when in 1961, he flew onboard the Vostok 1 and became the first human to journey into outer space. One year later, John F. Kennedy addressed the US Nation with his famous speech, informing the public about the plans of landing on the moon before 1970:

“We choose to go to the Moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

On July 20, 1969, about 650 million people (a fifth of the world’s total population at the time) around the world tuned in to Armstrong and Aldrin’s broadcast from the lunar surface. Despite the 1.6 Billion audience (in today’s number), space never really took off. The momentum slowed to a trickle after the Space Race (1955–1991) and almost ended following the two Space Shuttle tragedies.

On April 12 of 2020, President Obama spoke at the 50th anniversary of NASA: “Fifty years after the creation of NASA, our goal is no longer just a destination to reach. Our goal is the capacity for people to work and learn and operate and live safely beyond the Earth for extended periods of time, ultimately in ways that are more sustainable and even indefinite.”

Still, not much changed.

Then 11 years later, Greg Autry, American space policy expert, educator, entrepreneur, and author writes: “This is the tipping point in the space economy. This is like 1998 for the internet…”.

Author Malcolm Gladwell defines a tipping point as “that magic moment when an idea, trend, or social behavior crosses a threshold, tips, and spreads like wildfire.”. (Note to Gladwell: perhaps “spreading like wildfire” is no longer the appropriate politically correct metaphor. I am not sure we want to associate a magic moment with the misery of wildfire victims!! I propose something along the lines of: spreading like a YouTube cat video. PS. I am available for writing Comedy material. Just email me!)

In his book Tipping Point, he identifies three “agents of change” necessary for something to tip into critical mass:

1) The Law of the Few — the involvement of people with a particular and rare set of social gifts. The economists call this the “80/20 Principle, which is the idea that in any situation roughly 80 percent of the ‘work’ will be done by 20 percent of the participants. This category is divided into 3 categories:

  • Connectors: people in a community who know large numbers of people and who are in the habit of making introductions.
  • Mavens: information specialists, or people we rely upon to connect us with new information.
  • Salesmen: persuaders, charismatic people with powerful negotiation skills.

2) The Stickiness Factor — the specific content of a message that renders its impact memorable.

3) The Power of Context — the conditions and circumstances of the times and places in which they occur.

Let’s take Gladwell’s criteria and find out why 2021 has crossed the threshold and will now spread like cute cat videos on Tik Tok.



2021 would have never become the tipping point without these 3 people (in order of impact achieved): Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, and Richard Branson.

Despite other previous salesmen like Carl Sagan with his 1980 television series Cosmos: A Personal Voyage (the most widely watched series in the history of American public television, seen by at least 500 million people in 60 countries), Neil deGrasse Tyson, Stephen Hawking, or Gerard O’Neill with his visionary space settlements, prior to 2021, the topic of humans in space was the realm science fiction supported by a community of nerds and Star Trek fans. It wasn’t until Elon Musk made space cool again that the world started to shift. Elon has transformed our relationship with space in the same way Steve Jobs changed our relationship with computers, phones, and music.


For this category, I will look not specifically at who connects us but rather what gives us our information. In other words, I will look at major players in the world of media consumption.

With 214 million subscribers, Netflix’s “Watch Countdown: Inspiration4 Mission to Space” 5-part documentary definitely played a part in promoting the historical event. The streaming giant also had a live webcast of the launch on its YouTube channel (22.5M subscribers) which was hosted from New York by Soledad O’Brien and Karamo Brown.

Whether we like it or not, Twitter is one of the most influential sources of information. With 67M followers, Elon Musk is #12 on the list of most-followed accounts in the world (more than Oprah Winfrey, LeBron James, The New York Times, CNN, Bill Gates, and Bill Clinton). NASA has 51M, while SpaceX has 20M and the International Space Station (ISS) is followed by 6M people. William Shatner, who went to space, has 3.5M. The Today Show, which features host Michael Stratam who also went to space, is followed by 4.2M.

While the print circulation of Time Magazine is down to only 1.6M, its special edition “Person of the Year”, which features a person, a group, an idea, or an object that “for better or for worse… has done the most to influence the events of the year, reaches tens of millions around the world through print, online and media coverage. The choice for 2021 was Elon Musk. This is the second time only, since the beginning of the edition in 1927, that a space-related person is chosen. The last time was in 1968, with the Apollo 8 astronauts (William Anders, Frank Borman, and Jim Lovell) when they became the first humans to travel beyond low Earth orbit, orbiting the Moon and paving the way for the first manned Moon landings in 1969.

On December 11th, former football player and NBC Today host Michael Strahan flew to space onboard Blue Origin. Football is America’s favorite sport (37%) and The Today Show is №1 among adults 25–54, averaging 3.265 million total viewers. It reaches 70 million viewers per month, with the majority of the audience under the age of 50.

Star Trek ranks as one of the most culturally influential television shows of all time. Many who work at NASA and in the space industry have claimed the show to be the main inspiration for their career. On October 13th, William Shatner, who played the famous Captain Kirk (In a 2010 Space Foundation survey, Kirk tied with cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin as the №6 most popular space hero), flew to space onboard Blue Origin.

Media statistics:

  • Perseverance Mars Landing — 22M views on NASA YouTube
  • Space X Crew-1 Launch — 19M views on NASA YouTube / 6.1M views on Space X YouTube
  • Blue Origin’s First Human Flight — 3.5M views on Blue Origin YouTube
  • Inspiration4 Launch on SpaceX — 3.8M views on SpaceX YouTube / 666K views on Nasa YouTube
  • Willam Shatner’s Blue Origin Flight — 1.2M on Blue Origin YouTube / 634K on CNBC YouTube
  • William Shatner Reacts To Seeing Earth From Space: ‘It’s So Fragile’ — 671K views on Today Show online
  • Vice President Harris NASA video — 467K views on NASA YouTube

As a point of comparison, Friends’ first episode, in 1994, was watched by 22M Americans. That is with all the marketing and promotion done prior to the show. In 2021, Oprah’s interview with Meghan & Harry was watched by 21.7M people. The Summer Olympics Sunday Prime Week #1 had a viewership of 17M. Adele: One Night Only tv broadcast gathered 12M pairs of eyes. And America’s most popular show NCIS had an audience of 13M for its top episode of the year.

MIT’s Department of Aeronautics & Astronautics graduate admissions program this past year saw a record number of applicants, “most of whom want to work in the space business,” said Daniel Hastings, professor and head of the department. “I can’t tell you how many students think that flying a helicopter on Mars is just a cool thing to do. They want to do things like that, it’s really attractive to a lot of students,” said Hastings.Space News, 2021


At the beginning of 2021, I reached out to my friend and CEO of Orbital Assembly Rhonda Stevenson asking her to connect me to the space community. I told her I wanted to get involved. I believed that our expansion into space was nature’s next step and I wished to bring my narrative and perspective to the table. She connected me with Overview Effect author Frank White and the following week, I started attending the weekly Overview Effect Roundtable.

Around the same time, the audio app Clubhouse was making headlines. In some interesting and organic way, the platform became a nexus point for many within the space community and others who wanted to be part of it. The group “Small Steps and Giant Leaps”, founded by Alder Riley, led the movement, hosting astronauts, prominent NASA / JPL employees, and other space celebrities. Today, SSGL has close to 80K members. Clubhouse has faded in popularity but many connectors, including myself and Kimberly Washington, “connected” on the platform and have taken their influence into the real world.

People who used to be on the fringes have now become “influencers”. Others who have worked in the shadows for decades are now being challenged by a flux of newcomers. Space is now mainstream and everyone wants a piece of it.


Thanks to social media, our attention economy, and a flair for drama, space was a sticky piece of paper in 2021, but not necessarily for the best of reasons. From the public to Prince Williams, from Senator Elizabeth Warren to UN World Food Program Executive Director David Beasley, from Forbes to The Atlantic, space-related Billionaire bashing was always just a click away. Throughout the year, the insults, the critics, and the outcry at their space leisure spending, environmental impact, and lack of care for the planet never stopped. It might have not been the best way to stick around, but it did the trick. As they say, bad publicity is good publicity.

“A widely shared petition asking for Bezos to not be allowed to return to Earth has gathered more than 150,000 signatures. “Billionaires should not exist . . . on earth, or in space, but should they decide the latter, they should stay there,” the petition’s creator said on change.org.” Leaving A Planet In Crisis: Here’s Why Many Say The Billionaire Space Race Is A Terrible Idea, Forbes magazine, Nicholas Reimann, 2021


This is a big part of the puzzle. Something that differs greatly from 1969 and any other times in the past. And the answer is — climate change and the environmental state of the planet. Just like Europe in the 1500s, we have pushed our resources and nature to a breaking point and we need to find another place if we want to keep expanding. I have written in another post why going to space will be the best thing for the Earth (click here) For many now, going to space is not just a frivolous idea, but a question of survival for the human species.

While Gladwell’s 3 agents of change can explain a lot about why 2021 became the tipping year, they, unfortunately, don’t succeed in painting the full picture. There are two important elements that are missing and without them, none of the above would have been possible. They actually might be a sub-category under “Context” but I do believe they are worthy of their own category.



“…as of the end of 2010, NASA had spent more than $192 billion (244 billion in 2021) on the space shuttle fleet since its inception in 1971, researchers said…” Space.com, 2011

“… a final tally of the space shuttle program’s lifetime costs puts the price tag at $1.5 billion per flight (almost 2 billion in 2021), a new analysis shows…” NBC News, 2011


“…previously flown booster missions were priced “around $50 million,” down from $62 million. Musk said SpaceX’s prices would continue to decline, too.” Space News, 2019.

“Between 1970 and 2000, the cost to launch a kilogram to space remained fairly steady, with an average of US$18,500 per kilogram. When the space shuttle was in operation, the cost was $54,500 per kilogram. For a SpaceX Falcon 9, the cost is just $2,720 per kilogram.” The Conversation, 2019

The bottom line is, that Space has become relatively cheap. Cheap enough for the private sector to jump in. Space is no more something limited to the Governments of rich nations, companies, and even small start-ups can reach for the stars.


I started writing this section under the title “Innovation”, about how the 3 agents of change would have misfired hadn’t been for the available technology. I was thinking of rockets landing upright and thousands of other technologies that are being used on SpaceX, Blue Origin, the Perseverance Rover, the Ingenuity Drone, and the James Webb Telescope, which didn’t exist 10 years ago. And even if they were available or known, they needed to mature and get better.

Then I realized that what was really the key here was timing. We could even argue that timing is actually luck. Steve Jobs could have been born 10 years earlier and be too early for the tech boom. Or his father could have continued his fight in Syria, never going to Wisconsin where he met Steve’s mother. Had this happened, Apple would be a really different company today. Perhaps it would not even exist. As for Elon, what if he had never left South Africa? Or Canada? Or would have been born 5 years later and instead of developing an interest in computing and video games, Elon would have taken an interest in photography? Most likely 2021 would have passed by without any space fanfare and be just a COVID pit. There are thousands of “ifs” that could have derailed this pivotal year. Or even its feasibility. And the flip side of this question also arises: How many times did evolution come close to a breakthrough but instead fell short?

It reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I hung out with the BBC in Argentina. They were there hoping to film the dusky dolphins feeding on a giant ball of anchovies. Chatter from the fishermen about witnessing a gathering of biblical size had convinced the producers to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to capture on film the event. For weeks the team patrolled the water, sometimes with planes in the air or with an army of scouts located around the gulf glued to their telescope combing the interior sea. They would follow the birds, follow the fishermen’s instructions, follow the weather, follow their intuition, and even follow the local folklore. But they never got the shot. They would get a giant bait ball but no dolphins. Or countless dolphins with only a small bait ball. To this day, even after years of trying, they never got the timing right.

Timing is the wild card that can save or break the game.

While we can agree with Gladwell’s theory of “agents of change” for something to tip into critical mass, let me entertain you with my own analysis by the way of an equation, on why last year successfully became the tipping point in our relationship with space.:

(A+B+C) * Z = 2021

A) Elon Musk. Once in a while, there is a person who happens to be the right genius at the right time, in the right place, and with the right resources. Howard Hughes was that kind of person. Steve Jobs also was.

B) Economics. It can’t spread like an annoying TikTok cat video unless it is commercially viable and sustainable.

C) State of the world. World damnation is one hell of a motivation to push the impossible and come up with a Plan B that doesn’t exist.

*The parentheses imply that A, B, and C, together, create their own reality and generate other powerful agents of change.

Z) Call it luck or timing, it is the wild card.


As we move into 2022, watching with excitement the unfolding of the James Webb telescope, let us ponder on all the amazing accomplishments of 2021 and celebrate all the people who made the impossible possible. On behalf of the entire world (even if many don’t want to admit it) we thank you and are forever grateful. Our world is better (and will be better) because of what you have achieved. (That is ok Prince William, you can say it too!)

Accomplished in 2021:

  • First suborbital human private spaceflight (Virgin Galactic)
  • First civilians to reach outer space with their own ship (Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic)
  • First suborbital flight using a reusable launch vehicle licensed to fly paying customers (Blue Origin)
  • First suborbital human private spaceflight to cross the Karman line (Blue Origin)
  • First siblings in space (Jeff and Mark Bezos, Blue Origin)
  • First all-civilian mission to orbit (Inspiration 4)
  • First civilian black woman in space (Siam Proctor, Inspiration 4)
  • First-person in space with a prosthesis (Hayley Arceneaux, Inspiration 4)
  • First Hollywood actor in space (William Shatner, Blue Origin)
  • First flight to space with six civilians onboard (Blue Origin)
  • First television host and former football player in space (Michael Strahan, Blue Origin)
  • First father and son duo in space (Lance and Cameron Bess, Blue Origin)
  • First commercial film crew to space (Russian director Klim Shipenko with actress Yulia Peresild)
  • First full-length, fictional movie filmed in space (The Challenge, Russia)
  • First time growing peppers in space
  • First time US Vice President delivers a speech centered entirely around space
  • First-time US Vice President kicks off World Space Week, on Youtube
  • Second suborbital human private spaceflight (Blue Origin)
  • Oldest person in space (Wally Funk, (82), then William Shatner (90), Blue Origin)
  • Youngest American in space (Hayley Arceneaux, Inspiration 4)
  • The youngest person in space (Oliver Daemen, 18 years old, Blue Origin)
  • Highest Earth orbital civilian crewed spaceflight in history (Inspiration 4)
  • Daughter of the first American to travel into space and who walked on the Moon, travels to space (Laura Shepard Churchley, Blue Origin)
  • Russian Soyuz spacecraft resumes space tourism activity at the ISS after over a decade, with Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa
  • Perseverance rover lands on Mars
  • Ingenuity solar-powered drone performs the first powered aircraft flight on another planet in human history.
  • China’s Tianwen-1 lander and Zhurong rover land on Mars
  • Lucy, a NASA space probe, is launched
  • The Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) is launched
  • China began construction of the Tiangong space station
  • James Webb Space Telescope is launched
  • IXPE telescope is launched
  • Number Orbital and suborbital launches: 146 (135 successes)