Interview With Hermes Project Founder Morris Jarvis – On Productivity and Overcoming Doubts

Morris with the Hermes Spacecraft

Morris with the Hermes Spacecraft

From June 2011 to August 2012 I had the unique opportunity to work with a very interesting individual in the construction industry – Morris Jarvis. Morris is an Intel employee responsible for development of the Building Information Modeling program (BIM program) at Intel in Arizona and the founder of the Hermes Project, which is a space tourism project meant to compete with the likes of Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. His last Kickstarter campaign achieved it’s goal of raising $20k, but he has a long way to go before he is operational.

Morris is a self described “Red-neck rocket scientist”, hoping to bring space travel to the masses in an affordable way. He is, without a doubt, a dreamer. But he is the best kind of dreamer – one that takes action. So I asked if he would answer a few of my questions on how he is able to be so productive, how he handles internal and external doubt and what advice he would give to a younger generation that may be unsure about what exactly it is they want to do with their life.

My questions in bold below, with his response in italics:

You have a degree in Aerospace Engineering, a full time managerial position at Intel that requires you to travel all over the world from time to time, a wife and kids, grandchildren, a vegetable-oil burning volkswagon pickup retrofit that you built, and a little thing on the side called the Hermes Project. How have you managed to be so productive with your life? Did this come naturally to you or was it something you had to work on?

I’ve never been very good at taking time off and/or I get bored easily… (Stupid Smiley Faced Thingy Goes Here). Having said that, it did take a few years of “self training” to start making lists, prioritizing, and actually finishing things instead of having a dozen different abandoned projects laying around. I still haven’t perfected that, but I’m getting better. (I am sure that if I were in the school system today they’d have me diagnosed with about every ADD ailment there is out there…)

Considering the Hermes Project has been built mostly in your garage I know there are members of the media that would try to label you as some kind of “red neck whack job” when the reality is far from it. How do you manage doubts from both internal and external sources, and continue on with building your dream?

My “garage” is a bit more than that, but generally the media finds it much more “sensational” if it’s just called “my garage”. This does bring out a lot of the naysayers but, in reality, I have a 1200 square foot shop that I built this in and it’s equipped with milling machines, lathes, plasma cutters, torches, MIG/TIG/Arc welders, presses, etc.

Usually, when the naysayers and “armchair quarterbacks” ask the right questions and we discuss the answers, I get converts to the cause. Sometimes I get people who just take the position of “we’ll see…” and generally I’ve found that the few people who still walk away still thinking it’s preposterous had their mind made up before the discussion even started and no amount of talking was going to change their mind in the first place…

Realistically, manned spaceflight is 50 years old and was originally done with slide rules, horn-rimmed glasses, and a bunch of guys who would not take no for an answer. Our modern mobile phones have more computing power than those guys ever dreamed of putting into a room, much less into the first manned spacecrafts they built…

In fact, if you look at the schematics of the original mercury capsules, the attitude control system was all manual with the astronaut controlling some valves with mechanical linkage…  

You also have to remember we are only working on sub-orbital flight. Orbital is a whole new ballgame and a huge jump in the level of difficulty. Some day we hope to go orbital, but that’s barely on the radar screen at this point…

Did you always know that you wanted to build a rocket? How have your dreams changed since your youth? What were the first steps you took and looking back is this where you expected to end up?

I always struggle with this question. As long as I can remember, I was drawing rockets and space “stuff”, reading every book on the subject that I could get my hands on, (which was no small feat in the little rural town I grew up in by the way…).

You have to remember though, I grew up in a time when men were landing on the moon, living in space onboard Skylab, landing on mars for the first time, on and on… Space for us was going to be a sensational future. Sadly that momentum seems to have gotten lost somewhere along the way. However, I believe I am seeing a new, private, space race bubbling up right now, which is both encouraging and discouraging at the same time.

Discouraging in the sense that I’ve been “laughed off the planet” for years over this and suddenly, a few millionaires jump on it and now it’s fashionable…

On the other hand, it is encouraging because what I’ve been working on all these years is no longer science fiction and not many people laugh at me about it anymore…

If you were to do it all over again, would you have done anything differently? Started sooner, learned a certain skill earlier, etc?

From the discussion above, it turns out I should have gone off and figured out how to become a millionaire first and then go and start playing with rockets… (Again, That stupid little smiley faced thingy goes here…)

All in all, I can’t complain about how things turned out though. I pretty happy with where I’ve gotten to compared to where/what I came from… I’ve always pursued the rockets, and then hot rod cars being second, and then keeping in mind that the one thing that always trumps all of that is family…

If I ever made a mark on this world, I would have to say that mark would be my two boys and the fine young men they have become…

Do you have any parting words of advice for fellow dreamers?

Sure…

Don’t take “no” for an answer… Don’t ever let the “I cant’s” of the world get in your way. Sometimes they are worth listening to, just so you can be prepared for the next one. You should always regard those “it can’t be done dissertations” as a way to figure out how to move on and/or get around the “can’t be done” issues and don’t let it stop you…