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TED2007

Steve Jurvetson: Model rocketry

Filmed:

Moneyman Steve Jurvetson takes TEDsters inside his awesome hobby -- launching model rockets –- by sharing some gorgeous photos, his infectious glee and just a whiff of danger.

- Venture capitalist
Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson (he brought you Hotmail) is one of the most influential funders and thinkers in Silicon Valley. He's also an enthusiastic hobbyist, blogger and Flickr-er. Full bio

By day, I'm a venture capitalist. On weekends, I love rockets.
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I love photography, I love rockets,
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and I'm going to talk to you about a hobby that can scale
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and show you some photos that I've taken over the years
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with kids like these; kids that hopefully will grow up to love rocketry
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and eventually become maybe another Richard Branson or Diamandis.
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My son designed a rocket that became stable,
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a golf ball rocket -- I thought it was quite an interesting experiment
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in the principles of rocket science --
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and it flies straight as an arrow.
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Baking soda and vinegar.
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Night shots are beautiful,
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piercing the Big Dipper and the Milky Way.
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Two stage rockets, rockets with video cameras on them,
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on-board computers logging their flights,
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rocket gliders that fly back to Earth.
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I use RockSim to simulate flights before they go
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to see if they'll break supersonic or not,
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and then fly them with on-board computers to verify their performance.
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But to launch the really big stuff, you go to the middle of nowhere:
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Black Rock Desert, where dangerous things happen.
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And the boys get bigger, and the rockets get bigger. (Laughter)
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And they use motors
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that literally are used on cruise missile boosters.
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They rumble the belly and leave even photographers in awe
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watching the spectacle.
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These rockets use experimental motors like nitrous oxide.
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They use solid propellant most frequently.
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It's a strange kind of love.
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We have a RocketMavericks.com website with my photos
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if you want to learn more about this, participate, be a spectator.
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Mavericks: we had to call it Rocket Mavericks.
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This one was great: it went to 100,000 feet,
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but didn't quite. Actually, it went 11 feet into the solid clay;
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and it became a bunker-buster,
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drilling down into the clay. It had to be dug out.
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Rockets often spiral out of control if you put too much propellant in them.
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Here was a drag race.
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At night you can see what happened in a second;
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in daytime, we call them land sharks.
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Sometimes they just explode before your eyes or come down supersonic.
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(Laughter)
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To take this shot, I do what I often do,
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which is go way beyond the pads where none of the other spectators are.
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And if we can run the video, I'll show you what it took
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to get this DreamWorks shot.
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(Video) Voices: Woohoo! Yeah. Nice.
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Steve Jurvetson: This is rare. Here's where they realized the computer's failed.
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They're yelling deploy. Voices: Oh shit.
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SJ: This is when they realize everything on board's gone haywire.
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Voices: It's going ballistic. Oh shit.
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SJ: And I'll just be quiet.
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Voices: No.
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Up, up, up.
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SJ: And that's me over there, taking photos the whole way.
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Things often go wrong.
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Some people watch this event because of a NASCAR-like fascination
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with things bumping and grinding. Burning the parachute as it fell --
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that was last weekend.
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This guy went up, went supersonic, ripped the fin can off --
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yard sale in the sky --
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and a burning metal hunk coming back.
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These things would drop down from above all through the weekend
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of rocket launch after rocket launch after rocket launch.
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It's a cadence you can't quite imagine.
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And in many ways, I try to capture the mishaps;
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it's the challenge in photography when these things all take place
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in a fraction of a second.
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Why do they do it? It's for things like this:
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Gene from Alabama drives out there
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with this rocket that he's built with X-ray sensors, video cameras,
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festooned with electronics, and he succeeds getting to 100,000 feet,
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leaving the atmosphere, seeing a thin blue line of space.
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It is this breathtaking image --
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success, of course -- that motivates us
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and motivates kids to follow and understand rocket science:
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to understand the importance of physics and math
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and, in many ways, to sort of have that awe at exploration
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of the frontiers of the unknown.
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Thank you.
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(Applause)
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About the Speaker:

Steve Jurvetson - Venture capitalist
Venture capitalist Steve Jurvetson (he brought you Hotmail) is one of the most influential funders and thinkers in Silicon Valley. He's also an enthusiastic hobbyist, blogger and Flickr-er.

Why you should listen

"Scary-smart" is a phrase that comes up in coverage of Steve Jurvetson. In his work at Draper Fisher Jurvetson, he's taken early and influential positions on some world-changing tech ideas -- such as the viral marketing of Hotmail. Now, he's looking forward into nanotech and synthetic life, and the Valley is looking over his shoulder.

He's a passionate advocate of new thinking on technology -- especially on his thoughtful and funny blog, the J Curve. His massive Flickr set documents his many passions -- speaking at conferences, meeting like-minded geeks, shooting off rockets.

More profile about the speaker
Steve Jurvetson | Speaker | TED.com