NASA astronauts Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley are coming home. Photo courtesy of NASA

On May 30, the world watched a historic — and uplifting — moment in space travel, as NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley blasted off from Earth in a commercial craft created by Elon Musk's SpaceX. The NASA/SpaceX Dragon Endeavour flight was the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program.

The SpaceX Demo-2 launch was a success: the duo orbited Earth and eventually boarded the International Space Station; Behnken and Hurley have been stationed there since.''

Now, space fans can watch the return of the NASA/SpaceX Demo-2 test flight, which is scheduled for 1:42 pm CST on Sunday, August 2. The splashdown represents the first return of a commercially built and operated American spacecraft carrying astronauts from the space station, according to NASA. The historic return signifies the close of a mission designed to test SpaceX's human spaceflight system, including launch, docking, splashdown, and recovery operations.

The ever-popular Space Center Houston (the official visitor center of NASA's Johnson Space Center) will stream the live splashdown in a socially distanced event. Visitors can engage in interactive, pop-up science labs to learn about the splashdown process, the specially crafted spacesuits, and more.

To make it a full day of exploration, guests can walk underneath a flown SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket, which is the only Falcon 9 on public display outside of SpaceX's headquarters, and is the same type of rocket used in the Demo-2 mission.

Guests can also take a tour of the Independence Plaza exhibit and walk inside a shuttle replica mounted on top of the historic shuttle carrier aircraft NASA 905. Myriad other experiences await; safety protocols will be in place.

Meanwhile, NASA will broadcast the splashdown coverage on NASA TV and the agency's website beginning early morning on August. 1, with coverage lasting through splashdown on August 2.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Kathy Lueders will lead the future of human space flight at NASA. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA names new leader to Houston-based human space flight arm

at the helm

NASA has named its new head of human space flight — a department based out of Houston's Johnson Space Center.

Kathy Lueders, formerly the commercial crew program manager, has been named associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday, June 12.

"Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024," says Bridenstine in a news release. "She has a deep interest in developing commercial markets in space, dating back to her initial work on the space shuttle program."

Lueders has been with NASA for over 12 years — spending time at both JSC and Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"From Commercial Cargo and now Commercial Crew, she has safely and successfully helped push to expand our nation's industrial base," continues Bridenstine. "Kathy's the right person to extend the space economy to the lunar vicinity and achieve the ambitious goals we've been given."

The appointment was effective immediately, and included two other personnel changes for NASA — Steve Stich was named commercial crew program manager, and Ken Bowersox returns to his role as HEO deputy associate administrator.

"I want to thank Ken and the entire HEO team for their steady support of Kathy in making Commercial Crew such a success," added Bridenstine. "I know they'll give her the same support as she moves out in her new role. This is such a critical time for the agency and for HEO."

The appointment comes at a time when NASA is focused on commercializing space exploration. Last month, Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley took off toward the International Space Station in SpaceX's Falcon 9 rocket — representing the first manned mission in a SpaceX vehicle and the first launch from United States soil in almost a decade.

"We still need to bring Doug and Bob home safely and we're not going to lose focus," continues Bridenstine. "We have our sights set on the Moon and even deeper into space, and Kathy is going to help lead us there."

Houston-area NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will make a historic flight. Photo courtesy of NASA

Here's how to watch the historic NASA/SpaceX mission launch in Houston

Ready for takeoff

Update: The launch was scrubbed a few minutes before launch due to undesirable weather conditions. The new launch date is Saturday, May 30, at around 2:30 CST. The original story is below.

Two Houston-area NASA astronauts are set to make history. Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley will blast off on Elon Musk's SpaceX's Crew Dragon spacecraft, a Falcon 9 rocket, at 3:33 pm (CST) Wednesday, May 27, from the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.

The flight is currently scheduled as a 60-percent "go" for launch as of May 27, with only inclement weather or a technical issue holding up the takeoff. Due to COVID-19 and subsequent social distancing issue, the launch will see only a small crowd at the Cape Canaveral takeoff.

The mission will carry the duo to the International Space Station and is considered a new era of human spaceflight, as American astronauts will once again launch on an American rocket from American soil to low-Earth orbit for the first time since the conclusion of the Space Shuttle Program in 2011, according to NASA.

NASA's SpaceX Demo-2 mission is the first launch with astronauts of the SpaceX Crew Dragon spacecraft and Falcon 9 rocket to the International Space Station as part of the agency's Commercial Crew Program. It's the final flight test for SpaceX; the mission will validate the company's crew transportation system, including the launch pad, rocket, spacecraft, and operational capabilities.

This also will be the first time NASA astronauts will test the spacecraft systems in orbit — Behnken and Hurley will don new, specially designed spacesuits and use touchscreen computers systems. The pairing of NASA — a governmental agency — and SpaceX, a commercial space flight operation, means NASA could save tens of millions in flight costs and instead focus on its Artemis mission to the moon, for example.

"The ultimate goal for us as astronauts and test pilots is just to go up there and prove out the mission and to bring the vehicle home safely," Hurley told CultureMap news partner, ABC13.

Proud Houstonians can watch NASA's coverage, which began at 11:15 am Wednesday, May 27, and will run through the Crew Dragon's docking at the International Space Station on Thursday, May 28. Expect a hatch opening and welcoming ceremony.

As part of the pre-launch ceremonies, at 12:07 pm, Burleson, Texas native Kelly Clarkson sang the National Anthem.

A special called Space Launch Live: America Returns to Space airs at 1 pm on the Discovery and Science Channel and will feature special celebrity guests including singer Katy Perry, Adam Savage, former NASA engineer and YouTube star Mark Robert, and astronaut Chris Cassidy from the International Space Station.

Meanwhile, launch and prelaunch activities on YouTube, Twitter, Facebook, and even Linkedin. For those watching at home and looking for a festive theme, Space Center Houston created an at-home viewing guide, including a playlist, outfits, and space food.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston innovator bets on humanoid robotics with new startup

back in the founder seat

For his next act, Houston entrepreneur Nicolaus Radford has started — in what he describes as an "anti-stealth" capacity — a new company that hopes to bring humanoid robotics out of science fiction novels and into manufacturing floors.

Radford, who saw his last company, Nauticus Robotics, from founding to IPO, left the company in January. He tells InnovationMap that he started receiving some compelling offers at other robotics companies, but none of them felt like a fit. However, he just couldn't get the idea of advancing humanoid robotics out of his head.

"Humanoids are the holy grail of all of robotics," Radford says. "It's what every science fiction writer's always dreamed about.

"It is the future," he continues. "And now with this generative AI moment of 2022 where these machines look a lot more capable, flexible, reprogrammable — they can reason in real time. That's a huge deal."

Radford says he got a call from his friend, Jerry Pratt, who was the CTO at humanoid robotics company Figure AI. Pratt and Radford both worked in robotics at NASA and each have decades of experience in the tech world. The conversation really sealed the deal for Radford, and the two officially launched Persona AI in a LinkedIn post that Radford says shocked him with how much interest the community had.

Radford says that with all this interest, he wants to open up the company to more co-founders than just himself and Pratt, who's based in Florida.

"We're going to give a significant amount of the company out to the early joiners, more so than is probably typical," Radford says. "And it's because we know it takes a village, and we want to highlight that to everybody."

"We're trying to crowdsource the company," he continues. "We've coined that we're anti stealth."

Specifically, Radford says he's looking at growing the team to about 25 people in the next year, alongside raising early funding. He's looking for people with a diverse tech background with well-rounded experience.

"Robotics and humanoids in particular are just so multidisciplinary," Radford says. "Humanoids are a hundred-thousand-piece puzzle, and you're trying to put this puzzle together."

And for Radford, assembling that puzzle in Houston is of utmost importance. The company is headquartered here, and Radford is currently working with The Ion to set up an office there.

"We're exceptionally excited to put (the company) in Houston," he says. "It would be incredible for the city — there's a lot of industrial manufacturing here and a lot of warehousing. ... I still have this desire to shine a light on Houston's tech scene because I believe it is unsung, underappreciated, and quite capable."

The potential for this technology is huge — Radford estimates it as a $3 trillion market — but the first industry he plans on tackling is automotive, but he also sees promise in the medical, energy, and home industries.

"We think automotive is going to be a first-mover market. There's a lot of publicly announced partnerships between advanced robotics companies and humanoid companies and automotive," he says. "These folks are showing a willingness to put something out in the press that says they're developing a humanoid or piloting a humanoid. That's huge.

With this expressed interest, technology advancement, and large labor shortage, Radford is convinced now is the time for humanoid robotics — and for Persona AI.

"We're at a technology tipping point where it makes sense that these machines can do this, and there's an investment community willing to finance it," Radford says. "I think the first time in all of robotic history we're closer than we've ever been to making this a reality."

Here's how far Houston's robust population of 'super commuters' drive to and from work every day

on the road again

If you’re a workday commuter in the Houston metro area, you may be among the many motorists who’ve cursed the snarled traffic on I-610/West Loop Freeway. This route routinely takes the crown as the most clogged roadway in Texas.

But imagine if you were one of the nearly 80,000 workers in the Houston area who travel at least 90 minutes each way for their jobs. That’s an even more gripe-worthy commuting scenario.

U.S. Census Bureau data gathered by Apartment List shows that as of 2022 in the Houston area, 79,645 workers were tagged as “super commuters.” These workers represent three percent of all commuters in the region.

The Houston area’s 2022 number is down slightly from the pre-pandemic year of 2019, when 82,878 workers across the region were super commuters, according to Apartment List.

Igor Popov, chief economist at Apartment List, says 3.7 million American workers spent at least 90 minutes traveling each way for their jobs in 2022. These extreme commutes are becoming more commonplace as suburban populations rise and employers pull back on remote work, he says.

Nationally, the number of super commuters jumped by 593,000 in 2022 compared with 2021, when the pandemic caused the figure to plummet by more than 1.5 million.

“Generally, super commuting is most common for transit users, workers who live on the fringes of the metropolitan area, or those who commute to separate metros entirely,” Popov says.

Super commuting is also common among high-income workers who are willing to travel longer distances for higher-wage jobs, according to Popov.

A recent study by Stanford University and travel data provider INRIX mostly aligns with the Census Bureau data cited by Apartment List.

Since the pandemic, the study says, the share of one-way commutes covering at least 40 miles has gone up in the country’s 10 largest metros, including Houston. In the Houston area, the share of one-way super commutes, which the study defines as those over 75 miles, grew 18 percent from 2019-20 to 2023-24.

Among the 10 areas examined in the study, a typical two-way super commute lasts nearly four hours and 40 minutes.

Experts: What Houston startup founders need to know about conducting a successful IPO

guest column

Home to a wealth of world-changing innovations and a highly skilled labor pool, Houston has attracted startups and digital tech firms for years. Today, the city stands at the forefront of a promising era with seven Houston startups beginning the year strong with more than $380 million in venture funding, and the city ranked among the top emerging startup ecosystems in North America

Houston-based startups planning their exit strategies have good reason to be optimistic about an initial public offering, or IPO, market that is expected to grow in 2024. After a two-year slump in startup investing, some market watchers are predicting that the IPO window may reopen as the economy improves and inflation and interest rates cool.

But good timing requires good readiness. The window of opportunity for preparation now appears to be a microwindow. As any company that went public at the peak of the dot-com or post-COVID booms can attest, preparation is essential to quickly take action when the time is right. Hitting that microwindow will require that IPO-bound Houston companies be strategic about their IPO readiness planning. A lack of planning can result in an IPO experience that is not well planned, and potentially a missed opportunity altogether.

It’s unclear when the next IPO window will open, or for how long the window will remain open, but it could happen quicker than expected. This unpredictability suggests that Houston startups seeking to go public should start their legal, financial, and regulatory planning now. The important period for many companies planning an IPO begins six to 18 months prior to listing and lasts until the six months post-IPO.

Readying an IPO

We gained several insights from our discussions with CEOs and CFOs who have effectively navigated IPOs recently to provide insights for companies contemplating going public when the next microwindow opens. A company’s comprehensive readiness plan can be key to performing well in the market, whether it is up or down. Summarized below are common key areas that challenged many C-Suite executives in being a public company and, in hindsight, areas they wished they had addressed earlier in the process.

  1. Internal forecasting. Internal forecasting is paramount. In fact, it’s one of the primary takeaways cited in our conversations with the C-suite execs who went through the IPO process. Houston companies on an IPO track should be prepared to provide accurate forecasting and timely fulfillment of projections. Missing projections can result in significant regulatory repercussions.
  1. Key performance indicators and non-GAAPmeasures. Take reasonable steps towards performing a comprehensive benchmarking study to determine relevant KPIs and non-GAAP measures and metrics to report upon; be ready with the frameworks in place to report upon during quarterly and annual reporting.
  1. Growth story. The ability to communicate the company’s growth story can be essential to an effective IPO. Company leaders should be able to clearly convey topics such as the company’s growth, vision and strategy, its plans for improving performance metrics, the market opportunity, its competitive edge, and how its product or services will meet market demand. Meetings with analysts and other market influencers are also necessary to gain investor support. The executives we talked to said that when they did not invest time in this awareness-building step, they often found themselves rushing to get the word out as the offering date closed in.
  1. Finance infrastructure and human capital. Understand the infrastructure and operating model required to operate as a public company, along with the human capital necessary to sustain operations. Identifying the necessary skillsets and bandwidth within the team supports a smoother IPO process. Collaborating with experienced, independent advisors is also vital. These advisors assist in organizing the process, outlining SEC reporting requirements, updating SEC-compliant financial reporting, preparing Management Discussion and Analysis (MD&A) and pro forma financial information, and offering guidance throughout the pre-IPO preparation.
  1. Governance. IPO-bound companies need to anticipate new corporate governance requirements as a publicly traded entity, particularly in terms of their board of directors. Proper governance and board oversight can be essential to support the quality of financial statements produced by management. Executives told us that recruiting the right board members is often a significant pre-IPO challenge. Identifying these members early is crucial, as the right resources may not be available later.

Closing thoughts

If you are among those companies looking to go public in the near future, now is the time to get your house in order. Companies are often surprised to discover how much preparation it truly takes to operate as a public company. In fact, we typically recommend starting the preparation journey 18 to 24 months before the anticipated public listing date. Simply stated, if you wait until the IPO window opens before gearing up, you likely will be gearing up for the next window.

Deloitte’s complimentary IPO

SelfAssess tool can help you gauge your ability to go public with a tailored assessment. The tool provides you with useful insights and identifies potential areas for improvement based on the feedback you provide.

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Will Braeutigam is the U.S. capital markets transactions leader at Deloitte & Touche LLP. Laura Evans is audit and assurance partner at Deloitte & Touche LLP.