Famed techbiz journo and investor Esther Dyson has been named as chairperson of a new "Technology and Innovation Committee" formed to help advise the senior management of NASA.
The space agency has announced a "restructuring" of its Advisory Council, featuring four new committees looking into "key areas of importance to the agency's future" - namely Commercial Space, Education and Public Outreach, Information Technology Infrastructure, and Technology 'n' Innovation.
"I consider the NASA Advisory Council to be an extremely important external advisory group, one that is uniquely capable to advise me and the entire NASA senior leadership team on some of the important decisions our agency will face in the coming months and years," said NASA chief, ex-combat pilot, former shuttle astronaut and US Marine general Charles Bolden.
"I am confident that this new structure will serve as an effective forum to stimulate meaningful advice to me and the rest of NASA’s leadership."
In the Technology and Innovation slot NASA has chosen Esther Dyson, daughter of the famous physicist Freeman Dyson and dubbed by some the "first lady of the internet".
After an economics degree at Harvard, Dyson - apparently having been turned down for a job at Variety - worked as a fact-checker and then techbiz scribe at Forbes magazine. Later she ran a paid newsletter, Release 1.0, thought influential in the days of Bubble 1.0, and wrote weighty tomes on techno-visionary and libertarian topics. She was also "peripherally involved" in running ICANN at one point.
Dyson's personal fortune was also built on stock investments, for instance early buys in del.icio.us and Flickr which were then sold on to Yahoo! at advantageous prices.
An enthusiast in the areas of aviation and space, Dyson now has shares in companies such as XCOR Aerospace and Icon Aircraft. She also has holdings in Space Adventures, the firm which arranges for the very wealthy to visit the International Space Station aboard Russian rockets, and recently spent months in Russia training as understudy to Charles Simonyi. However, Simonyi made his trip into orbit as planned, and Dyson returned to the States saying she remains "eager to go into space as soon as I can figure out how (to finance it!)".
A proper Space Adventures ticket like Simonyi's costs somewhat north of $20m. Dyson has told the BBC she has "no idea how much" she's worth, but we can take it her pile isn't such as to mean she can spare $25m with any ease.
Apart from private space startups - a sector which some believe is in line for a massive windfall if NASA decides or gets told it should privatise most of its space launch activities - Dyson owns stakes in more ordinary internet/tech companies. Examples include the for-profit charity giving service Wellgood LLC, Home DNA test firm 23andMe ("your risk analysed for 119 diseases... your ancestry in amazing detail") cloud email organiser service Boxbe, etc etc.
Certainly one would expect that NASA Administrator Bolden, with his boring engineering and science degrees, test-pilot's ticket, four missions in space, experience of command at high rank and chestful of medals will have much to learn from Ms Dyson. ®