Robert Böhme likes going on walks. While walking, he thinks about the Moon.
A lot has happened in this Berlin-based programmer’s life. He founded the PTScientists had a long conversation with Bill Gates, received payment of $750,000 from the Google Lunar XPRIZE Foundation in January 2015. He has achieved quite a lot. But his true goal is still a long way away.
384,400 km away, to be exact. That is the distance from Earth to the Moon. Others might be daunted by it, but Robert Böhme has never felt that way.
“It’s good to have something that is much bigger than you are. That helps you grow,” he says in a way that shows he is the kind of person whose words need to keep up with his thoughts. “We are sometimes called the Moon people. On the other hand, we don’t want to be a startup like all the others, ever since Steve Jobs said he wanted to make the world a better place. Despite the many people who want to do that, the world isn’t any better.”
But this is not the voice of a pessimist or a cynic. Just the opposite: an “untiring optimist who drives the team forward” is how Robert Böhme’s colleagues describe him. He is the captain who keeps this offbeat, widely scattered team of specialists on course. He explains to the outside world that he is not at the helm of a lunatics’ association but of a team of experts that stands a good chance of sending a rocket with a cargo of rovers to the Moon.
His hair has more gray streaks than you would expect of a 29-year-old. That’s not unusual with people who do things others wouldn’t give them credit for on account of their age—as if their bodies needed to illustrate a certain earnestness. Robert speaks with the conviction of a person who stands behind what he does. Resolute in his arguments, light-hearted in his delivery of them. This is the role he grew into.
“The hardest thing of all was giving up tinkering,” he admits. “But at one point I realized there are people who can solder circuit boards twenty times better than I can. And that it’s my job to make sure they can go about doing that undisturbed.”
Since he was the one who put the PTScientists team together, nobody argued with him.
Robert paid the equivalent of $10,000 to enter the Google Lunar XPRIZE after a friend forwarded an e-mail announcing the competition.
Robert was 22 years old.
At that age, others would use their money to travel around the world or buy themselves a new car. But Robert Böhme has always been driven by other ambitions. He likes hiking to get his thoughts in order, but he much prefers being active in communities. Before the Part-Time Scientists (an early incarnation of what is now PTScientists) came to life, he built an Internet radio based on Open Source technology, and before that he ran a large community for Linux beginners. And—yes, there has to be a cliché somewhere—as a fan of the early Star Trek movies, he has always had an eye on space.
“As a kid I was fascinated by the Tricorder used to diagnose people remotely,” he recalls. “And there’s an XPRIZE for that, too, but why doesn’t anybody get the idea to do that otherwise? There aren’t enough visionaries today. People are stuck far too much in an optimization rut. Today’s commercialization is supposed to make everything that exists better. But that way, you don’t make anything new. Life can’t just be about optimizing things for capitalism.”
It should be about the dream of flying to the Moon.