Richard Pell Speck

Richard Pell Speck

Died October 16, 2010

Richard Speck left Yale in 1963 and ended up on the frontier of space. The boy who had tuned ham radio into Sputnik as it orbited Earth became the man, complete with flowing white beard, who was widely recognized as one of the visionaries of affordable space travel.

Richard moved to Denver where he spent two years putting his genius for electronics to work at the Cardiovascular Pulmonary Research Laboratory in the Department of Medicine at the University of Colorado Medical Center. During his first year in Denver he met Nancy Margaret Roberts, and they were married in 1964.

In 1967 Richard was one author of a paper entitled, A modified fuel cell for the analysis of oxygen concentration of gases which appeared in the Journal of Applied Physics. His early research in pulmonary physiology would later prove useful in the development of life support systems for travel in space.

The same year, Richard graduated from the University of Denver with a B.S. in physics with math and chemistry minors. He continued his studies with graduate work in physics, chemistry, electrical engineering, orbital dynamics and space systems engineering. At the same time, Richard was developing electro-optic instruments sold to Kodak, Polaroid, Leitz, Corning Glass, Northrop Grumman, Lockheed Martin and more.

Richard founded an aerospace corporation, Spectrum Instrument Corporation, in 1997 which later changed its name to Micro-Space Inc. His wife, Nancy, who had gotten her M.B.A. from Colorado State University, served as administrator of the corporation whose core strategy evolved into using modern technology to achieve radical downsizing of space systems to minimize launch costs and make missions financing feasible – in short, creating satellites the size of cell phones, not Volkswagens.

As Richard tells it in a video which can be seen on YouTube, “in 1991, the Holy Spirit challenged me to aim higher and actually take my old love for space flight and to believe that I could get somewhere with it.” A company publication put it in more prosaic terms. “Watching American space efforts, from Vanguard to Apollo 17, on TV (Richard) thought, like others, that he was seeing the beginning of the space age. Much later, he realized that he had been watching the end of a ‘publicity stunt,’ for all its technical excellence, and that the real space age would require a different sort of development.” The new development was dubbed Moon 2.0 and took the form of a race to land the first privately funded vehicle on the moon – the first step toward mining the resources of Earth’s “off shore island.” The same systems could be used to travel beyond the moon to Mars. In practice, it came down to developing ultra light space systems and more efficient life support systems. Among other technologies, Micro-Space developed lightweight composite fuel tanks that could be used for manned or unmanned travel.

Richard completed a master’s in aerospace technology at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, in 2007. He was certain private space travel was on the verge of becoming a reality. The technology existed. All that was needed was funding which he said would amount to no more than the amount of money it takes to field a state of the art sailboat for the America’s Cup. Unfortunately, Richard didn’t live to see it. As he was preparing to launch a miniaturized satellite known as CubeSat into space, Richard died unexpectedly on October 16, 2010. The following year, Micro-Space, having lost its founding spirit and genius, dissolved.