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Cocaine Cowboys - Weekend Update Edition

By Tim Chrisman - 10/11/2021

Smart Brevity Count: 6.5 Minutes, 1781 words



Team SPACE, 

Cocaine Cowboys….you heard of them? I’m going to assume you haven’t since otherwise this is going to be a short email. The Cocaine Cowboys were a drug ring based out of Miami from the early 1970s until the 1990s. These guys moved hundreds of tons of cocaine into the U.S. and it took the better part of 30 years to actually catch all of them after they were indicted. I’ll get to why these guys are relevant - but if you want to take a break here to go learn more you can check out this NPR article. Or if you want the more entertaining version of their story you can check out the Netflix series about them.


Ok either you just got back from 5 hours of binging Netflix or you just kept reading - in either case, the important part of the Cocaine Cowboys’ story is how a trio of first generation immigrant high schoolers created a multi-billion dollar startup by focusing on doing one thing better than anyone else. That one thing? Moving cocaine into the U.S. 


Granted this one thing ruined thousands of lives - but stick with me here - I’m usually fairly good at landing analogies. These cowboys were able to create a relatively small criminal organization that was able to earn far more than the larger, more notorious cartels active at that time. How did they do that? Well again - they focused on their one thing - they weren’t one of the violent cartels (a relative term for a criminal syndicate) - and so were able to streamline their logistics to the point where they functioned more like an Amazon or Walmart. No doubt there were plenty of times along the way where they were distracted by how ‘the others’ did things, and there were a number of points where the cowboys had to pivot what they did, but in the end they focused on filling the gaps that their larger competitors neglected. And by doing that they were able to thrive. 


Yea - I’m about to say that we here at the Foundation can learn from and emulate said cowboys. Last week’s Conversation for the Future (C4F) is a good example of how we have been able to do just that. 99.7% (ish) of other space nonprofits have annual conferences where thousands of people come to listen to talks and network. What was missing was something for the rest of the year. C4F changed that last December when we started running monthly conferences. Just like the cowboys we missed out on some opportunities by filling this gap - however the payoff has been impressive. As we near the 1 year mark and can more accurately compare numbers, we are on track to have ~7k attendees. Or roughly half the size of the 35th Space Symposium.

Not bad for our first year.


The bottom line: I’m not going to say that we need to glorify the cowboys - although their penchant for Ritz hotels does seem pretty good - but I want to challenge us all to continue to look for where we are trying to do too many things, especially if other organizations are already doing them well. I have talked with some of you about this idea last week - but for the rest of you - if you see us doing something that doesn’t make sense or isn’t part of us ‘doing one thing the best’ - speak up - change is what we do. 


Ok - enough talk about cocaine - let's get to the rest of what happened this week.



One Big Outreach Thing: Progress is faster than it looks on T.V.

More details: If you followed political news this week then you saw Congress approach multiple deadlines, avoid multiple crises, and slide a little further into gridlock. While all that may be true - it misses an underlying truth: Congresspeople are eager for action, even if Congress isn’t.


Make sense? Well - let me try with an example.

  • What they're saying: This week I chatted with the staff at a couple offices where we were discussing the sequencing and timing of introducing the SPACE Corporation Act (SCA). These Congresspeople are on board to help move the SCA forward, and are working with us to figure out how to do that. All they are waiting for is gaps in the crises to sequence things.


Other Outreach: Also this week we participated in multiple Space Community (SC) events including the CSF’s Regulatory Committee meeting and Politico’s Defense Forum.  


Future Outreach: Next week I’ll make my rounds at the Association of the U.S. Army Conference to chat with companies and DoD officials. We’ll also have follow-ups with a couple Congressional offices and will be intensifying our outreach to professional staffers on non-space committees in the House and Senate. 



One Big Operations Thing: We brought space home

More Details: This week’s Conversations for the Future was themed ‘Bringing Space Home’ and boy did @Lee ever do that. Between a star studded lineup and a near record-breaking attendance, this month’s event was excellent - and I can say that without arrogance because I might as well have been a passive bystander for all I did. Well done Lee. 


More Operations: This week Ashley and Emily continued work on both the Stem Talent Challenge and the Good Job Challenge grant packets. Ashley also helped bring in a couple of partners to help us codify our Space-Ready School accreditation. Look for more details on this in the near future - but the rough outline is that we will work with the Council for Higher Education Accreditation to become the organization that can accredit space-related career and technical education programs.


Future Operations: We are meeting with a handful of potential new members for the Association for the Future, and holding our quarterly board meeting. We will also have a couple of meetings on both the Good Jobs Challenge and our nascent accreditation program.



Other Stuff 


One Big Other Thing: Gala, Gala and Gala. 


More Details: We finalized tables, desserts, and DJ this week. Oh and have I not mentioned that we will be having an open bar? Hmm….normally I am pretty good at not burying the lead like that.


Future Other Stuff: We will be finishing up the last minute planning for the Gala this week. If you don’t have your ticket you can get one here. We are planning on launching the silent auction online later this week / early next so that those of you who can’t make it can participate.



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That should just about do it my friends. As always - thanks for sticking around this far. After I started this email talking about cocaine cowboys I figure there is an expectation for me to end this with something of a bang. Unfortunately I’m expected to head to my first haunted house ever here in a few - so I need to go practice my screaming and warm up my legs for some sprinting…I’m assuming I will be doing both of those. 


So I’ll leave things here - until next week - unless I see you out there sooner.  






Tim Chrisman is a former Army intelligence advisor, security officer, and most recently, a CIA officer supporting the national space council and the Joint Staff of the Office of the Secretary of Defense. He holds two master's degrees - one in Intelligence Studies, and one in International Relations and Affairs from American University. Tim is the author of the book Humanity in Space and of various articles about the expanse of our civilization in space.

Tim’s next challenge and mission is to create the backbone of America's next century in space. In 2020, Tim co-founded Foundation For The Future, a scientific education and public works advocacy foundation, dedicated to one goal: the creation of a space infrastructure administration. This will be a public-private partnership to create jobs in the new space economy, new opportunities for innovators, and ultimately space access for all.