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Purpose of my life

When I was small, I used to and still wonder about the purpose of my existence.

I had a crazy thought that maybe just maybe, if the universe is so huge what if we are living on something like say a ball inside a massive universe. Our existence is ephemeral but in our timelines it’s huge. or in another extreme, is there another universe existing inside the smallest of atoms that we see. Would there people be there? Is there an end to this journey?

I had discussions with my grandpa who introduced me to an idea called Maya, the incredible Hindu principle that explains away everything by just calling everything a bluff; saying nothing really exists and everything is just an imagination of the mind. This theory is extremely good. There is no way to argue it away as it is not possible to prove a hypothesis that just blends in zero. I did not like it as my grandpa insisted that meditation would liberate us and make us one with god. Why would god create us and then want us to meditate on him so as to be liberated form her own world? It didn’t satisfy me.

I pursued science and two things that always pulled me were the deepest oceans and the high skies. Both were mysterious. They beckoned laughingly with all the secrets they held. Both felt like home but I didn’t know why. Now that I think of it,  the deep seas beckoned because we arose from the oceans to rule the land. And space because we are made of star dust formed in explosive cataclysm. I realized the space part of our origin after a visit to the Griffith Observatory. Since it was much easier to look at the sky on top of my home rather than go in a deep sub. I liked it more and spent time reading books, magazines and attending a few summer schools. It held a great sway on everything I read. Like a rude awakening, Space Science told me how quickly time passes. How an entire lifetime for us is just a very very tiny fragment in the time of our universe.

At the same time, I started looking at ways of people who had changed the world completely in a fraction of their small time in the world. The “secret” for making something happen is desire. If I want something and I’m willing to lose everything for it, I will get it. That is the simple rule that runs the world. It needs an enormous amount of patience, self belief and a willingness to take any ridicule and still move on.

With these thoughts and ideas molding me, I set out on a journey of my own. I dislike working on something that is predictable as it gets very boring and frustrates me to no end. I always want to do something new, explore areas where no one has been before, bask in a new place alone rather than in a world famous beach with lots of people. Once when I was in my primary school, I’d written an article in the school magazine for which I got a voucher for use in the Strand Bookstall. I remember it was for INR250/- which was a big amount at the time. I went there with my dad and was looking around. Dad spotted a book called, “Space: The Next 100 Years“. He picked the book for me and told me that it would be a nice book and since I liked space and stars, I might like it. I grabbed it and we ended up spending an extra INR200/- on it. A fortune back then. The book was visionary and told about humanity’s conquest of the fabled final frontier. It was printed in the 90s and spoke of the grand trips to Mars and the world’s beyond and how our species was going to occupy them.

It is 2014 now. Where are all the promised wonders of the space age? Where are the rockets? Where are the habitats on Mars? Where is the space factory churning out medicines and wonder materials? Why did no one ever go beyond mars? Why didn’t Russians go to Moon and beyond? These questions haunted me and the search for answers revealed an intricate political mess. The Americans went to the moon because of their love for their president John F Kennedy who set a goal, a well defined timeline and an appropriate budget. After the goal was reached there was no new goal and his successors just saw it as a hog on resources. At the same time the Soviets suffered a catastrophic explosion that killed their chief rocket scientist which all but ended their program. The passionate people who could make things happen died ending with it the dream to occupy other worlds. There are now a large number of individuals with the same desire and they do propagate their ideas all the time.

I’ve always believed in doing rather than talking. So instead of starting another rhetoric and building support for public investments in space, I decided to do my bit. I decided I will have my own Rocket, my own space company and my own space missions. A rocket is expensive and years of schooling has taught how rocket science is complex and needs a huge posse of nerds. It is very true. But the problems in rocketry become obvious fairly quickly. Rockets need stronger, light weight materials that can withstand high temperatures. The holy grail in rockets is a reusable system.

Let’s just imagine rockets to be like cars. Rockets built in the US are like a Rolls-Royce that is destroyed after a one way journey of just100Km!!! Rockets made by India are like an older generation BMW but are still destroyed in an explosion after a 100Km journey. Obviously it’s not a very good way to drive such a high performance system and it will be very expensive. Every space agency in the world is working on reusable rockets for the past 50years. The Space Shuttle was meant to be such a system but design compromises made it unviable, It was more expensive to run than a single-use rocket.

The 50 year long wait frustrated me and I decided to do my bit. At the same time, my interest in Space led to an emerging field of technology called Nanotechnology. Space and Nanotechnology are closely tied by the underlying science. Both can be explained using principle of Quantum Physics. One deals with the massive, the other deals with the tiniest stuff we know of. With Astrophysics, I could observe, document and see the wonders of the universe and with Nanotechnology, I could work with the Science that we use to explain the universe and create new wonders. The pull from the latter was strong and I decided to pursue the same. This was ~2003, and there was talk of an Amazing new material that was a 100 times stronger than steel. It had first been observed in space around 1980’s and the material had been created on earth. This was the beginning of my love story with Carbon Nanotubes.

The more I dug into Nanotubes, the more excited I got. Here there was something that will finally change the world we know of. Here was a single material that was a 100 times stronger than steel , 1000 times more conductive than copper, 2 times the thermal conductivity compared to the best material known to nature, and an ideal solar cell material. This was going to change the world completely even more than plastics or internet did. It would solve numerous problems. It’d help us solve power problems by reducing wastage, it’d help build taller bridges, it’d reinforce concrete and steel meaning we’d need lesser concrete and steel to build stronger buildings, It’d enable ultra light weight bullet proof armors for soldiers, flexible displays for phones,  new flat panel displays with billions of pixels and enable a host of future technologies like ion drives, space elevators and star-trek like tricoders. And best of all Carbon Nanotube composites were predicted to lead to much lighter, super-strong reusable rockets.

If I were to just ask for a Rocket made of Carbon Nanotube composites, it won’t come out of thin air. Someone needs to put in an effort to make it happen. It didn’t seem like anyone else was interested which worked for me. I decided to make it happen. Proposing a Rocket out of the blue to travel to places beyond earth is a hard sell. After all people mostly care about money rather than a good idea that can make lives of the future earthlings better. I had to create a plan that would satisfy investors appetites, give them more than the returns they sought while also making my dream of space travel real.

This is the purpose of my life and that’s exactly what I’m doing now.

First I had to understand how nanotubes worked and had to acquire knowledge on Carbon Nanotubes. If somebody else had already created the technology I needed there was no need to reinvent the wheel. I did a Master’s in Nanotechnology and spent two years acquiring this knowledge. This immediately showed up a problem. I’d need high quality, uncontaminated nanotubes at a reasonable cost. Paying 1000-2000$ for a gram was not going to let me create a wondrous material.

I looked for technologies that could do this and found that there was only one process that was truly continuous and scale-able but it seemed to be largely abandoned due to technical and cost issues.  While learning more about the process, I came across work by a PhD student called Dr.Robert Kelley Bradley. He had a lot of hands-on work on the HiPCO reactor and knew it’s workings. His writings made it clear that he was a visionary and he was confident of the technology he’d developed. I also came across another study by Mr.Adedaji Agooba of the Louisiana State University. He’d prepared an elaborate report on HiPCO and CoMoCAT and compared their viability for a large scale manufacturing process. A perusal of Agooba’s report quickly showed that he didn’t seem to be a Process Engineer himself but was meticulous with the data he’d collected. It was obvious that HiPCO was superior even though it was expense. It was expensive because it used a costly raw material for catalyst. If not for it, HiPCO was vastly superior to CoMoCAT. At the same time, I got to speak with Kelley. I decided to take up the challenge of creating a new technology based on HiPCO to scale up Carbon Nanotube production. Kelley warned about how Dr.Smalley, the most visible face of Nanotechnology had tried and failed. I was just out of college with absolutely no experience in Pressure systems, had never operated a furnace let alone a high pressure complex system. To me, it was all just a matter of putting things together. Thus started NoPo.

A lot of things had to fall in place for it. The location was critical, I could choose India or US. Agooba’s report showed labor to be a huge cost in Nanotube production. If I had to bring Nanotube cost on par with natural materials, I had to trim expenses. At that time, most of the Nanotube patents were held by a few companies who did not seem like they wanted to share it with anyone. Techcrunch had just published an article on how India, Brazil and China were acting as Patent free zones. People could develop new technologies without having to worry about lawyers knocking to sue and shut them down. I also remembered telling the Visa officer that I’d come back to India after my Masters and start my own company. So, my startup would come up in home, India.

Well meaning friends warned about the red tape, bureaucracy and slow pace of things in India.  I have always believed that things slow down when people expect largess from the government. I’d slow down only if I ask for a subsidy or a free loan. So, I decided not to take any of it. I’d pay the exorbitant taxes, levies and duties without uttering a word. I’d keep the company size below the regulatory limits and scale only when absolutely needed.

Another immediate need was a name for the company. The space company I’d dreamed of had a name. I called it the “Gad Space Company” a.k.a G.S.C . It was something I came up with when I was in the 9th grade. But I didn’t want to use it up so soon. One day, I just tried to think of what everyone would say when I’d openly talk of my ideas. I expected a “Not Possible” , “Impossible! You are dumb and crazy and !!!” etc…. So I took the ‘N’.’O’ from Not and ‘P’.’O’ from Possible and came up with NoPo. I was confident of producing Nanotubes and when I had, I wanted to look back and laugh at the name.

With  the team, location and name set. Things rapidly fell in place. Dad stood firmly behind me and put to work all his years of experience as a lawyer to help me started . I convinced an uncle to let me use his vast machine building experience and NoPo was born. 3 years later we’d created a new HiPCO reactor from scratch using new materials and developed new technologies that made the process safer, industrially scale-able and produced very high quality material at an incredibly low cost. In June 2013, during a visit to the US. I learned that our Nanotubes closely matched the original HiPCO nanotubes and had even lower defects. We had finally drawn equal.

The archaic labor laws and continuing Labor disputes propounded by unions convinced me to go with a lean team and to spend on Robots and Automation rather than on people. I’d seen one too many companies that had succumbed to Union activism. Stories poured in from time to time; there was one about a fight that started when a Union representative became angry seeing a workers discussing with his supervisor during a tea-break. They were talking on their own free will and yet the union worker made a ruckus threatening dire consequences to the worker!!!

We developed a lot of Automation Technologies inside NoPo. Work started on Carbon Nanotube wires which will have applications in space craft wiring. We also began work on a new 3D printing technology that will eventually help me print a SWCNT-metal composite. When it’s complete in a few months, It would print out a complete Nanotube composite rocket engine in a single step with zero wastage. It has the potential to revolutionize manufacturing technology as we know it.

Now that I control production of the world’s most amazing material, the next step is to monetize it and shift gears towards the next step in realizing the goals I set for me.

The world’s largest and only ever growing market that will create the first trillion dollar company is energy. Everyone wants it. We always want more of it and this desire will never stop. The more of us there are, the more energy we need. Energy keeps us moving and gives us power. With the way we’re destroying nature and polluting our planet with Carbon Dioxide, it won’t be too long before catastrophe strikes and we will be forced to stop the pollution. Where does most of the smoke come from? Of course it’s coal plants and automobiles. How do we take them out? The answer is of course the largest source of clean energy in the solar system, the Sun.

If there is a solar power station in space, it can collect energy and beam it back down to earth as a microwave or LASER beam. This would provide 24×7 power and open up a host of possibilities. The energy would have just been absorbed by atmosphere if it hadn’t been taken out to produce power. The problem is putting up that power plant in space. Existing rockets don’t let us do it. SpaceX is working on Heavy lift rockets that are orders of magnitude cheaper than anything that exists but they are like passenger cars. What is needed is a Space Truck and nobody is working on it. That’s what I want to build next. A rocket so massive that everything built until now are puny. It is a Cargo Rocket, is built of steel, launches from the Ocean and uses fuels that are harmless to biological life. It is built using elements of design from Robert Traux’s Sea Dragon and Beal Aerospace Peroxide engines. It will have a 500Ton payload, is a fuel guzzler and is inefficient.  It doesn’t have the greatest performance. But it more than makes up for all these drawbacks by putting a power station in space and put harmful coal and Nuclear plants out of service. I am working towards a launch in 2020s. The rockets 1st stage is reusable from the first launch. It will make use of the new Nanotube-Metal composites being developed in NoPo for it’s structure, use nanotube wires for wiring, NoPo Nanotubes for high efficiency Solar Cells and NoPo Nanotube microwave transmitters for energy transmission from space.  This mission would also help India forego it’s costly oil dependency and get our rightful position as a peace-loving, peace-keeping world power.

Once we’ve launched a few power stations, and a rocket has reached it’s end of life for earth operations, we will just send payloads onto new worlds like Mars, Titan, Europa and Venus. They would also carry a small Solar power station for ground activities. It wouldn’t be a cost for the company as we’d anyways have to spend a fortune destroying the rockets. It’d be passed off as a disposal mission carried out by a subsidiary. I can see that mission. It’s different from what the artist’s rendered for human missions to other planets. The astronauts wear body hugging suits embossed with G.S.C. & NoPo. 

Once we’ve done this, I’ll feel satisfied with my life.









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