Steve Jobs wouldn't back my private mission to the moon

Today marks a year since the death of Steve Jobs -- a year that has changed my life in many ways with at least two of those ways yet to be announced. The anniversary seems to be an excuse for anyone with a byline who knew or even bumped into Jobs to throw out a reminiscence or two, and I’m not immune to that disease. So here’s the story of when I tried to get Jobs and Apple to back my Moon Shot.

I’ve been trying since 2007 to mount a private unmanned mission to the Moon, though five years in it feels sometimes like I could have walked there by now. It turns out that the greatest challenge to reaching the moon isn’t technical but financial. Even though my Moon project is by far the cheapest one around, the trick is to raise money at a faster rate than the budget expansion that inevitably happens as you face realities along the way.

So I’ve had a lot of meetings, made a lot of presentations, and the project is far from dead. I keep thinking that it’s time to make an announcement, but we’re still about $1 million short and keep getting distracted by other space-related opportunities like launching small satellites for other people.

Among my many meetings looking for sponsors were several with both Apple and Microsoft, neither of which resulted in a financial commitment but the stories tell a lot about each company.

At Microsoft I came in at too low a level. The people who got excited about the project had neither the budget for it nor ready access to someone with such a budget. We got lost in the general corporate noise, but before we did it was clear that Redmond bought our technical argument and saw a myriad of strategic and marketing reasons why it might be a good thing to do. Think Windows Phone on the Moon and you’ll get the idea.

My experience at Apple was completely different. There I entered at the highest possible level -- mano a mano with Steve Jobs.  All the strategic and marketing arguments were dismissed in the first minute. Jobs' questions were: 1) is it doable?; 2) is it a significant enough adventure to be worth attaching the Apple name? ROI didn’t matter to Jobs for something like this.

And yet it didn’t happen.

Here’s why. It wasn’t some unconquered technical hurdle. It wasn’t that we couldn’t do what we said we could do (understand that we in this case meant a lot of real rocket scientists far smarter than me). It was that our mission animation lacked a musical score.

"It needs music", Jobs said.

"In space nobody can hear you sing", I replied.

"Come back with music", he said, ending the conversation.

But when I came back with music (Robots on the Moon, written and performed just for this video by movie composer Dave Feinman) Jobs was on one of his medical leaves and our opportunity left with him.

Embedded above is the video Steve Jobs saw but never heard.

Reprinted with permission

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