Fred Koschara - My official personal Web page

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Fred Koschara

At the age of five, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. One way or another, nearly everything I've done in my life has been working toward that goal - although sometimes the connection has been "rather obscure."

In my youth, I imagined I'd be working for NASA to become an astronaut. During the summer between my junior and senior years in high school, I was reading a book about careers at NASA which stated that NASA wouldn't consider anyone taller than 5'11" as an astronaut candidate. I was then 5'10" and growing fast - but stopped growing a quarter of an inch shorter than the published height limit. Was that a coincidence? I will never know...

Over the course of time since the Apollo program put men on the Moon, I became disenchanted with NASA: I thought the Apollo program should have continued, and a busy space station should have been built in low Earth orbit. However, Apollo ended before the last flight, Skylab was allowed to burn up in re-entry instead of being boosted back into a higher orbit, and nearly everything got scrapped so they could build the Space Shuttle. The Shuttle was proposed as a system that was supposed to drive the cost of access to space down, but it had the opposite effect. When a space station got approved, it started out as a billion and a half dollar effort that had grown in cost to over $30 billion long before it was close to being done. I decided that the only way I'd get to be an astronaut was through private enterprise, both because of cost, and because only military personnel are selected as NASA astronauts - and I don't fit a military mold.

Throughout my childhood and teens, I developed a fascination for science, math and engineering, with an artistic bent including a love of fine architecture. I read in magazines such as Popular Science about "MIT students doing [this]" and "MIT students doing [that]" and decided that MIT must be a school where students did things - so that's where I wanted to go to college. I found it easy to learn just about everything taught to me in school, so I was able to breeze through my classes with the good grades that would be needed to get into a "tough" academic institution.

About halfway through my junior year (February 1972), my high school received a PDP-8/L on loan from Digital Equipment Corp. I was offered the opportunity to work with the computer as part of my academic program, and took to it like a fish takes to water. It wasn't long before when something went wrong with the computer, or it had to be restarted, I would be the one called - even if it meant pulling me out of class. By the time my senior year had begun, the school bought a PDP-8/E, and I started many days bootstrapping the computer with the front panel switches so it could spend 20 minutes reading the paper tape to learn to run BASIC programs entered from one of the two terminals.

There were two things I wanted to study in college - architecture and aerospace engineering, so whichever college I picked had to have both of those programs available. This limited my choices to a small handful of schools, and MIT was one of them. When I was accepted for admission by MIT under an early decision plan by Thanksgiving of my senior year, I didn't bother applying to any other schools: I'd gotten into the one I wanted, so why would I want to spend the effort on any others?

I had finished all of the math courses my high school offered by the end of my junior year, and didn't take any math courses at all during my senior year. That proved to be a problem when I got to MIT, along with somehow missing any introduction to matrix math. Where my high school classes had been a breeze, the college work was more difficult because some of my skills were rusty or missing. I decided to concentrate on getting my humanities out of the way while I caught up on math, but that led to boredom - and after a year and a half I decided it would be good to take some time off.

Looking for work in either aerospace or architecture without a college degree was proving to be impossible when my mother suggested I apply for a job as an electronic assembler at a company that was advertising for engineers (Rochester Instrument Systems). I applied, and got a job stuffing parts into PC boards and wiring equipment racks. From there I went through a number of temporary and contract jobs, learning skills and earning a better title with each move, and four and a half years later I was working as an engineer. My employers began to ask me to do some programming, and it wasn't long before I was working as a programmer more than a hardware engineer.

Since that time, I've worked in a wide variety of fields, held a host of types of positions, and learned a lot about business, economics and society in ways I probably would never have experienced if I had finished my education at MIT. Would I go back and change my life if I could - by taking some college math classes during my senior year of high school, for example? Perhaps - but if I had done that, I wouldn't be the person I am now, and I'm not sure I'd want to make that trade.

Circumstances and my philosophy have caused me repeated setbacks, but throughout them all, I've kept my faith in the propriety of private enterprise, individual responsibility and the fundamental rights of a free person. Together with my persistent dream of being able to move off-planet and making money in doing so, that faith has given me the strength to survive everything life has thrown at me. As my friend Keith Beal likes to say, "That which does not kill us makes us stronger" - and I've had a lot of opportunity to develop a solid inner strength that allows me to live as an honest, reasonable man without worrying about what anybody thinks of me.

Now, in July of 2011, I find myself working as a key software developer for a profitable company with a solid hold on the market it is addressing. It's an enviable position to be in, and if I didn't have a passionate dream driving me, I could easily stay where I am until I have the opportunity to retire to a more comfortable lifestyle. However, being who I am, there's an itch to "go build spaceships" that bugs me, sometimes more than others, that is going to have to be addressed one day: I know I would be much happier doing something that has a hope of getting me into a spacesuit than writing software cable companies use to accomplish network load balancing by throttling their customers' Internet connections.

I know I'm not going to stay where I am forever, but since I'm not where I want to be, that really doesn't bother me: Only through change will it be possible for me to get closer to my goals. In the mean time, I'm doing my best to smell the roses, and to make sure the people I interact with go away feeling like we both got a good deal.

If you are looking for my resume, please click here. It shows my experience in the computer and electronics industries: I started out working on an assembly line in a factory doing electronic assembly. Four and a half years later, by going from one contract position to the next, and assuming greater responsibilities at each step, I had risen to the level of engineer. My first employment as a programmer was incidental to the job I was doing at the time; however, it wasn't long before software was just about all was doing.

There are some other things on my resume, but (so far) it's primarily one of a computer programmer.

I really never intended to be a programmer, but I keep doing it because that's what people pay me for - and the income is rather seductive. When I was five years old, I decided I wanted to be an astronaut. I'm still working on it, but now I don't expect to do it within NASA or any other "public sector" space program, either in the U.S.A., or abroad: For one thing, I no longer have any desire to work take a government job, for philosophical reasons. In addition, there are several factors that I believe make it impossible for me, as a private citizen, to have any hope of going to space as part of any of the established programs:

  • Any politically controlled space program cannot have the managerial stability necessary to effectively accomplish the major technological achievements required for general civilian access to space, except perhaps by dictatorial decree - in which case general access would probably be denied by similar decree.
  • Space programs that are run as not-for-profit operations have no economic incentive to succeed, and are likely to continue to be nothing but an expensive play toy as long as taxpayers can be convinced to support the effort - then either discontinued or curtailed as much as is needed to quell the public outcry.
  • Civilian access to space will probably be denied as long as the military establishment has a significant voice in astronaut selection - except in rare publicity stunts where a "harmless" individual - such as a school teacher - is selected to make it appear as though efforts are being made to provide more widely available direct participation of the general public. When such occurrences happen, it will be done as an effort to enhance funding for the efforts through a greater appropriation of tax monies.

The net result of all of this is I believe the only way I will get to space is by establishing a privately funded, for profit, space program, running it as a business operation, and putting myself into the role of a test pilot within the effort. After 50 years of government-run space travel, only a dozen men have walked on the surface of another planet, and only a couple hundred humans have been outside our atmosphere. This is a totally unacceptable rate of progress: Now is the time for private enterprise to come along and say "Look, guys, this is how you do it!"

Please visit the L5 Development Group Web site to see how my efforts in the commercial space industry are progressing.

I heard (some time in ?1999?) that New Hampshire has more personalized license plates, per capita, than any other state in the country. That didn't really surprise me: It is a state of strong personalities, and for most of them the "Live Free or Die" of the state's motto is an essential part of their existence. Although some states allow for up to eight characters on a license plate, New Hampshire, like most other states, only provides room for six. I look at it as a challenge: "You've got 6 spaces for letters, numbers and punctuation to tell the world anything you want to about yourself. What's it going to be?" For me, the message was "I THINK" on the car I drove most often. (I originally put this message on my car with a "vanity" plate in Massachusetts, so the New Hampshire one was actually a 'clone' when I did it.) What does it mean???

  • I THINK, therefore I am
  • Sometimes I THINK too much
  • I THINK all the time
  • I THINK. Do you?

    or, it seems,
  • I THINK, therefore I'm dangerous

Sometimes a person will ask "What do you think?" If I happen to be busily thinking about something of particular importance, I'll tell them the subject on my mind. I've also been known to respond with a question of my own: "About what?"

Having a message for the world to see on my license plate doesn't seem to be enough, which was part of the motivation for me to continue getting T-shirts made with my own sayings on them. (Actually, getting T-shirts made predates my having a personalized license plate, but you get the message - or at least, that's the intent!) Now I've got a collection of around 180 T-shirts, and I wear one nearly all the time: They are a good way to get a conversation going. Besides, I've got things to say to the world, and what better way of letting the people around me know it than to put my thoughts on display for all to read?

I think I've struck a chord with my T-Shirt Philosophy, because people come up to me everywhere I go and say they like [the message on] my shirt. After hearing that enough times, it occurred to me that perhaps I should put together a catalog and start marketing my designs. It's online at the FredLines™ T-Shirts Web site. Each shirt has its own Web page, some of which have the story that goes with the shirt included. Eventually all of them will, but that's a project which is taking a bit of time to complete, wedged in between everything else I'm doing. I've also got a printed version of the catalog that lists all of the shirts by title. When I've got enough of the stories written, I'll be getting T-Shirt Philosophy published as a coffee table book, so that people don't have to sit at their computer or wait for Web pages to load to be able to appreciate the anecdotes and insights behind the shirts I wear.

I could go on for pages about the philosophic ideals by which I try to live my life. As a matter of fact, I will go on for pages. If you're interested in seeing some of the issues I'm concerned with, be sure to check my Philosophy pages for my thoughts about driving, taxes, and what's wrong with America, among other things.

Like everyone else, I've got hobbies and habits to distract me in my "copious" spare time. They help to keep my sanity, but there are times when I have to wonder if I put my attention into them to avoid having to deal with something that should be a more pressing issue: I'm not perfect, and I suppose procrastination is one of the faults I should work on more of the time. I'll get to that, one of these days.


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