One of the challenges in picking the annual 10 Who Made a Difference in Space is the fact that some people, by virtue of who they are and the positions they’re in, could justifiably make the list year after year. U.S. President Barack Obama immediately comes to mind, as does Elon Musk, founder and chief executive of Space Exploration Technologies Corp.
But not only is it boring to keep repeating selections from previous years — Obama and Musk made the list in both 2009 and 2010 — it necessarily denies recognition to others who have made important contributions in some sector of the broad area of scientific, commercial and military activity known simply as space.
Besides, there are no formal selection criteria for the list; this is not a competition, nor is it a ranking. It certainly helps if one makes the news during the year in question, but the rest is subjective and heavily anecdotal.
That said, the influence of some who are recognized in this year’s list is undeniable: Charlie Ergen, for example, single-handedly reshaped the competitive landscape of the satellite broadband industry in North America; Bruce Carlson, meanwhile, oversaw one of the most aggressive launch campaigns in the recent history of the U.S. National Reconnaissance Office.
The impact of some of the others is more subtle or narrow: Steven Squyres delivered a report to NASA on planetary science priorities that sought to align expectations with expected budgets, while Junichiro Kawaguchi overcame the odds to turn what appeared to be a snake-bitten asteroid sample return mission into a success.