SpaceX Polaris Dawn Crew Interview Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Mission Pilot (transcript)

What’s it like to train to be a mission pilot for space? BUSY! Find out more as we interview Scott Kidd Poteet, as he trains for mission pilot for SpaceX’s upcoming Polaris Dawn mission.

Chuck:
Thanks for joining me for your space journey. In today’s episode, we’ll speak with Scott Kidd Poteet, a mission pilot for the upcoming SpaceX Polaris program. Kidd is a retired US Air Force Lieutenant Colonel with more than 3000 flying hours as a pilot and over 400 hours of combat time. Most recently, Kidd served as the mission director for Inspiration Four, the world’s first all surveillance mission to space. Last September that raised more than $240,000,000 for St. Jude Children’s Hospital. Kidd will be the mission pilot for the upcoming Polaris Dawn mission, which is scheduled to launch hopefully later this year. The Polaris Dawn crew will spend up to five days in orbit and fly higher than any Dragon mission to date. They will also attempt the first ever commercial space your space journey.

Kidd, you’ve had the most exciting year I can possibly imagine. A year ago, you were getting ready for inspiration for as mission director. And now here you are, getting ready to train to be a mission pilot for Players Dawn. Absolutely. Yeah. Pinching yourself over this. How’s it feel?

Kidd:
Each and every day is a new adventure. We just got out here to Hawthorne. We’re going to have a full day tomorrow to talk about the mission, continue to do some more mission design discussions to figure out exactly how we’re going to execute. But every time we go to SpaceX, man, it’s just interact with the men and women there. They hit the 20th yesterday. Yes. That’s incredible. 20 years of SpaceX. They’ve accomplished so much. And each and every day is a new adventure. So it’s very blessed to be here.

Chuck:
I think it’s amazing that you’re there, too. Did you just start the training recently or has this been going on for a while? Because the Polaris program was really just announced not that long ago.

Kidd:
Yeah, I mean, a lot of the discussions and a lot of the leg work to get to the actual training. Hands on training. Granted, I got the best crew members that anyone could ever ask for with lead operations, engineers and Jaron’s astronaut. So I’m definitely the dead weight bringing down the team.

Chuck:
I don’t think that one bit because again, when I think of Space Journey, we love to talk about people’s space Journey here I see this amazing pivot. You went from a retired Lieutenant Commander in the Air Force, awesome pilot in the Air Force, to meet Jared Isaacman of Shift4. And that led you to becoming mission director of Inspiration Four. And now you’re training to be a space exploring pilot. So I know I’ve kind of given synopsis, but can you tell me more about your space journey. How did you get to where you are today?

Kidd:
That’s a great question. I always had a passion for aviation. I grew up, I’m 48, so I grew up in the 80s, the whole Top Gun era, and the right stuff came out. So that was definitely a catalyst when I was a young lad. Fast forward, things happen for a reason. And I had an opportunity in College to go experience a little bit of the Air Force jumped on what’s called an incentive flight in the back of a Case 135, watched some air to air refueling with some F 16s. It was a great experience. I got deathly airsick during that event, but I did get to see some sick scenes, get refueled, and that was enough to spark a drive that I wasn’t going to let that flame extinguish. So fast forward the 20 year experience flying at 16s, I got to experience a lot with combat experiences, operational tests. Thunderbirds commanded the Aggressor units in the Air Force and went to the Air Force version of Top Gun called Fighter Weapons School. Nice. So that all kind of laid the groundwork. I never thought I’d ever have the opportunity to go to space. I didn’t have the grades. I wasn’t dedicated. Let’s just call it in the academic environment. I understand when I’m not motivated on something, it doesn’t get much attention. But I was for flying throughout my Air Force career. And then I had the opportunity to meet Jared. I worked for him for a company called Drake International, and that kind of just evolved into where we are today. Just had the opportunity to be the mission director for inspiration for the rest of history. As far as me having the opportunity to be the mission pilot for this next mission, we got a lot laid out in front of us. We got some lofty objectives for this mission.

Chuck: I want to ask you about this, because you do have some incredible objectives. This is not a joy ride. Yes, it’s a commercial mission, but this is not a joy ride. You have some real science. You’ve got some major milestones coming up. I mean, hopefully the highest Earth orbit ever flown, and then the first commercial spacewalk at about 500 km above the Earth. So, yeah, tell us more about these objectives.

Kidd:
Incredible. Yeah. So even before Inspiration4, there was this dialogue going on with SpaceX, and we wanted to focus in on how can we contribute and help the SpaceX objectives of getting to Starship and bridging that gap from Falcon Nine crew Dragon to Starship. And the idea of this Polaris program came up, and we wanted to provide a little more operational focus and figure out exactly what needed to be accomplished for us to get to the first crude Starship and then ultimately lunar and Mars and beyond. And Eva is obviously one of those objectives. That needs to be accomplished. And anything that we can accomplish on this mission is going to help further the objectives of making space more accessible and getting us to those more advanced long duration space plans. So for this mission, the conversation that Jared had with Elon, some of these ideas came from Elon, the idea of doing the first spacewalk. So the team is working very hard right now. In fact, we’re going to go meet with them tomorrow to see the progress as far as this EVA suit, see where they’re at. I was here last week. I had an opportunity to talk to the guys and girls, and they are in full throttle mode developing the suit. So it’s pretty wild. And then you mentioned the highest Earth orbit. We’re setting that objective out there. We’ve got to continue to push the envelope. We got to push the throttle up and see how far we can get. Based on that objective of trying to achieve that 1400 km, we’re going to be touching the bottom of the Van Allen belts, and that’s going to provide an opportunity to do some radiation testing, experiments with science and research, which is one of our number one goals. In this one, we talked about the objective focus of this mission. We have up to five days, ideally during this duration, and we want to fill every single minute and second with something that’s going to further and push the needle. So we have a lot of science and research, and some of that is the radiation testing that we’re going to be doing for some of those initial highly elliptical orbits before we kind of circulate a little bit. They’re still elliptical. But to set up for that Eva that we have later in the mission.

Chuck:
I think that’s great. And I think you’re going to be testing the first laser-based communications of Starlink as well. But going back to just health experiments, I think you’re personally doing some health experiments. Can you tell us what do you plan to do?

Kidd:
Oh, I love when Jared mentioned that in the very beginning on announcement day. So there’s a lot of regulatory approval that we still need to go through with an IRB with an FDA approval. But if it all comes to fruition, the stars align. I have volunteered to participate in the first invasive ICP intercranial pressure experiment.

It’s something that’s necessary for us to make that next step. And again, you’re starting to see a theme here. One of the biggest concerns we have is sans spaceflight associated not neurocular syndrome, and that all deals with the pressure in the brain. It affects the ocular nerve, which can affect your vision, your cognitive functioning. And the purpose behind this experiment is to test and record measurements of the pressure within the brain, within the spine, and the elements of the experiment. It’s a small transducer that would be surgically implanted underneath the rib cage, which is connected to a catheter which goes up into the spine well below the spinal cord. And it just measures the fluid, cerebral fluid within your spine. And based on having those pressure measurements prior to flight, during mission and post flight, they’ll be able to have some data points to be able to hopefully better understand the impact that Sands can have on humans. That long duration space flight. It is. And you volunteered for that? I did. It’s awesome. I love that attitude. Yeah, you got to do it right. I grew up in the military for 20 years serving. It’s all about service and that they ingrained that in your brain. And I know I’m blessed to have this opportunity. There’s plenty of smarter individuals that could be sitting in the seat than I am, but for some reason, I’m here, and so I want to serve. I want to participate. I got one shot at this. I want to make the most of it, and I’m going to volunteer for anything and everything.

Chuck:
Kidd, I have to admit, I’ve always been just really impressed by how you’re humble. I mean, definitely not weak by any means, Mr. Iron man, but humble. I think that’s incredible on so many levels. I do want to kind of go back a little bit too, because I’m going to talk about just, if I may, Inspiration4 for a little bit. Looking back on that first mission of its kind, first of its kind, you were mission director for that. What was the toughest thing about becoming a mission director for a mission like that?

Kidd:
So just for clarity’s sake, and this gets to the humility piece. The mission directors that sit on console, the Sarahs and the Anas, by far more level of responsibility and expertise. It was effectively labeled as the mission director my role, but anything from getting coffee to I did get to sit on console, and I did get to go to the recovery ship for splashdown, and I was involved throughout the entire training process, so I got to sit and observe everything they went through. But I certainly tried to change that name from mission director to director or whatnot. But yes, I did fulfill that role on the inspiration side. As the director, I got to experience everything that they went through, and it was extremely rewarding. I think in retrospect, it helped me prepare for the role that I’m going to fulfill, especially with the crew that I’m matched with, with Sarah and Anna being the lead operational engineer for SpaceX and Jared with his resume. As far as the experience itself, whether Jared had this vision from the very beginning or it’s a good stepping stone, we accomplished a lot of inspiration for. We learned a lot, and we’re going to make the necessary adjustments to be able to improve and continue to build upon what we experienced with Inspiration4 and then into Polaris and ultimately the subsequent missions leading up to the first history is going to be made.

Chuck:
It’s just incredible. What are you the most looking forward to as mission pilot and your first mission is space?

Kidd:
I’ve thought about this question a lot, and I’m trying to pinpoint that one thing that I’m honestly hire experience. It’s so hard to the training leading up to. It’s going to be a journey, the team building. We’re talking about how we’re going to do the Eva training because we’re all going to go through the same training. Awesome. Based on how we’re going to execute the Eva, because it’s one room, it’s one capsule. There’s no airlocks. We got to bring that entire capsule down to vacuum. So we’re all going to be in the EBA suits. We’re all going to go through the training. We’ve talked about some of the MBL training we could do. We talked about doing some deep water scuba diving. So we’re going to do the fighter jet training, kind of take to the next level with that. We’re going to climb mountains, and that’s all the subsequent when you talk about the SpaceX training, we break it down into two phases. One is the basic skill sets, trying to get me up to speed based on what they already know. But it’s crucial that we all grew through the same training over again for those guys just because it builds that teamwork communication that is critical for the austere environment of space. And then second phase is more of that specialized training, the Eva higher altitude, the laser communication, how we’re going to execute that, and then all the subsequent supplemental training that we like to add on with the mountain climbing in the flying.

Chuck:
That sounds just incredible. So Polaris Dawn is the first mission, there are two more coming after it. Mission two, mission three… In general, can you tell us about the goals of the Polaris program?

Kidd:
Honestly, some people make it analogous of Gemini. We’re standing on the shoulders of Giants. What they accomplished was by far it was more risky. It definitely laid the groundwork for where we are today. And we wouldn’t be here without what they accomplished, the thousands of people that accomplished everything with Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo. But our intent is to bridge that gap, trying to take what we’ve been able to accomplish with Falcon and Dragon, with low Earth orbit, and now start to continue to push because we need to make space more accessible. We learned that inspiration for and we were successful at it. So it’s something that is out there. It’s just a matter of time before the doors open up and more people have that opportunity. But we want to push the performance of Falcon and Dragon to see how far we can get in order to move that needle and make long duration space flights more of a reality because that scifi is going to become reality in very short order. And it’s just right around the corner before we start crewing up starships and making that a reality. And now we’re off the moon, we’re off to Mars, we’re off the planets beyond that.

Chuck:
What a time to be alive! So with Elon’s goal of launching thousands of starships, they’re going to need lots of pilots. You’re going to be a seasoned SpaceX Dragon pilot, so your name is going to go at the top or near the top of the list, I would think. How do you feel about the possibilities of piloting Starship?

Kidd:
There’s always possibilities, especially the fact that these doors are going to open up and it’s going to be more accessible for others. Who knows where I’m going to be at on the age scale? It might be my son, or it could be anyone coming up behind that’s going to have a lot deeper resume, a lot more qualified. I’m just excited to be a part of this, to be a part of Inspiration4 as the director and now to be a mission pilot for Polaris Dawn, which hopefully makes history and continues to advance and make this more accessible and get us prepared for these longer efficient space flights. So that’s our focus. That’s our number one goal is to have a successful mission, accomplish the objectives and the goals that we set forth, and we’ll see what’s next. Who knows?

Chuck:
And that’s a noble goal. But another amazing goal is how Polaris is still a fundraiser like Inspiration4 for St. Jude. So not only are you on the cusp of just these amazing advances in space exploration, but it’s also for a great cause. How does it feel about to be part of that?

Kidd:
When we started off Inspiration4 one of the first conversations, we wanted to make a fundraiser that was number one vision for Jared. Our first conversation, ironically, was with St. Jude. And right off the bat, it was a match made in heaven. We didn’t have to look any further. They put a team together and they hit the street running. At the conclusion of Inspiration4 we knew our work wasn’t complete. Our overall goal is to support St. Jude and their vision to make sure that no child dies of cancer. So it was an easy transition. We just kind of wanted to take the next level. So that’s kind of where we evolved this into more of a global focus. And that’s why we piggyback on St. Jude’s Global Initiative, because we can capitalize on some of these operational objectives we have set forth. Laser communication is a perfect example with the Starlink terminal using laser communications. That alone will help advance telemedicine for developing countries around the world and better communicate no better example of what’s going on with Ukraine and the fact that St. Jude is scrambling to transport kids with cancer in Ukraine to safer territory. Whether that be in Poland to give them some basic needs for survivability. And they have to set up these makeshift hospitals in Poland to be able to manage the capacity and the influx of patients. And they’re setting up Starlink terminals so they can communicate at these austere in remote locations. And it’s working out and they’re saving these kids lives by utilizing this communication to be able to provide this telemedicine as necessary. So each and every day we see examples of how this partnership with St. Jude is going to better life back here on Earth. And that’s always been one of our goals.

Chuck:
That’s incredible. And Kidd, if I can one last question. You’re no stranger to working hard. In addition to being a military commander, fighter pilot, you’ve also competed in, as I mentioned, 15 Ironman triathlons since 2000, I think is awesome.

Kidd:
We’re about to go on a ten mile run. Jared and I are going to go on a ten mile run.

Chuck:
There you go. Well, real quick, what advice would you give to encourage people to work hard to bring out the best in themselves?

Kidd:
Oh, man. I got a question a couple of days ago on an interview about what motivates me. And it’s just that inspiration. Some of it is just internal. I see an objective, I see a goal, and I just don’t let go. I focus in on that objective and it becomes a passion and I won’t let it go. You’re always going to face challenges. Perfect example is my fighter pilot career. I was definitely airsick from the very beginning, grew up carsick, motion, sick, everything and anything, but I wouldn’t let it set me back. I knew I wanted to be a photopilot. So whatever I had to do, I set those goals, incremental goals and objectives to be able to get to where I’m at first start off is, am I going to make it through pilot training? I made it through pilot training. What was the next goal? I wanted to be the best fighter pilot I possibly can be once I got qualified for combat. And that’s where I set the goal to go through fighter weapons school. I got selected for that, and it was, how can I give back? I set a goal to become a Thunderbird and represent the entire Air Force. So it’s just about what inspires you. Don’t let other people’s desires and objectives influence what you want to do in life. It has to come internally. That intestinal fortitude, and that’s allowed me to get to where I’m at. Certainly I struggled in academics. I got this report card the kids came across the other day and it had these comments, C’s and D’s, and they’re like, dad, what what is this? So I certainly wasn’t the academic studious person growing up, but there are certain things that I was passionate and am passionate about, and that’s allowed me to succeed in certain things and it’s just based on having that motivation, that drive to be able to aspire to who you want to be in life.

Chuck:
You certainly have that drive and look where it’s getting you. Here you go. Get ready for space. I think that’s incredible. Again, I’m so impressed. I’m wishing you and the crew the best for Polaris Dawn. I just want to thank you so much for taking time out of your truly busy schedule join me today. I really appreciate it.

Kidd:
Absolutely. We look forward to updating you along the way. We’d love to circle back during training, talk about how it’s going and then certainly before the launch and after the launch we love sharing what we’re doing and it’s all about getting the message out. It’s not about this crew. It’s more about the mission and the objectives of exploring beyond the stars and making this all accessible for multiplanetary species.

Chuck:
That’s awesome, Kidd. Thank you so much for joining me. I really appreciate it.

Kidd:
Absolutely. Thank you.


Chuck:
I really joined my conversation with Kidd Poteet and I’m so excited about Polaris Dawn. That mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than fourth quarter of this year and we cannot wait. If you’d like to learn more, just go to their website at . I want to thank Kidd for joining me today and I want to thank you for joining us as well. Again, we’d appreciate it if you give us a thumbs up or comment . Also, if you can share this episode with a friend, we certainly appreciate it. Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join us today. We’ll see you next time. God bless.

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