Lee Steinke Interview with Dr. Namrata Goswami
Written by: Space Foundation Editorial Team
Hello, and welcome to another Space Foundation Space Commerce entrepreneurship interview. I’m Lee Steinke with Space Foundation. Today I have the privilege of talking with Dr. Namrata Goswami, an independent scholar on Space Policy. Thank you for joining us today Dr. Goswami.
Thank you, Lee, for having me. It’s an honor.
Dr. Namrata Goswami is an independent scholar on Space Policy, great power, politics and ethnic conflicts. She was a subject matter expert in International Affairs with the futures laboratory in Alabama and a guest lecturer for the India today class at Emory University. After earning her PhD in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, she worked as a research fellow at the Institute for Defense Studies and Analysis in New Delhi. She has been a visiting fellow at the Peace Research Institute in Oslo, Norway, at Latrobe University in Melbourne, Australia, and at the University of Heidelberg in Germany. She was a Jennings Randolph Senior Fellow at the United States Institute of Peace in Washington DC and just awarded a Fulbright Nehru Senior Fellowship. In 2016, she was awarded the Minerva grant by the Office of the US Secretary of Defense to study great power competition in outer space. In April 2019, Dr. Goswami testified before the US China Economic and Security Review Commission on China’s space program. Her book, the Naga Ethnic Movement for a Separate Homeland: Stories from the Field, was published by Oxford University Press in March of 2020. Her co-authored book, Scramble for the Skies: The Great Power Competition to Control the Resources of Outer Space, was published in October 2020 by Lexington press, an imprint of Rowman and Littlefield. Dr. Goswami gave a TEDx talk explaining her work in life at the Rosa Parks Museum in Montgomery, Alabama. Currently, she is working on two more books on space power and China’s grand strategy. Namrata, in your TEDx talk, you championed the democratization of space. In a way I think your decision to become an entrepreneur, as an independent scholar is a part of the democratization of academia. Can you tell us about how you decided to become an entrepreneur as an independent scholar, and what that means for how you go about your work?
Sure, thank you, Lee. So, and thank you for that wonderful introduction. So, my decision to become an independent entrepreneur was also based on my application for a Minerva research grant in 2016. And so when I received the grant, as an independent scholar, I was asked to establish a separate consultancy, especially if you have to get funding from the US federal government, you need a DUNS number, a Sam number and registration and also enlist yourself as a small business. So, in a sense, that actually enabled me to get the funding without having to be affiliated with any other university or think tank. And that was the start of my decision to establish myself as a separate consultancy. However, the process of thinking through the need to establish myself as an independent scholar had been in my mind for some years before I actually went about doing the bureaucratic process. And it’s been a very exciting journey since I went ahead and did that.
Well, you have a fascinating story. Would you share more about your background with our audience?
Surely, so I originate from the north east of India, which is a very remote region in India, it’s mountainous, it’s not connected as much to the Indian mainland. And so growing up, as I mentioned in my TEDx talk, as well, and the Rosa Parks Museum, one of the inspiration of my life was, of course, my father, Darren Chandra Goswami who encouraged me to study international relations, great power politics, those several wars that happened in the world, including the First and the Second World War and colonization which had a deep impact on India. So, given that background, I was always interested in studying international relations, grand strategy, great power politics, especially with regard to space. And so, because of that I did a PhD in International Relations from Jawaharlal Nehru University, as you mentioned in 2006. And since then, I have been researching on Asian geopolitics, US Space Policy, China’s Space Policy, as well as India’s Space Policy. And what is even more humbling for me is that my work has been able to reverberate around global audiences and I have been invited across the world to present my work. And so that’s a bit of my background.
That’s wonderful. And fathers can be such strong influences on our choices.
Yes, they can be.
How did space become a central part of your work?
So, for the last 20 years or so, I have been studying the rise of Asia, especially the countries like China, India, Japan, as well as some other countries like Indonesia, in Southeast Asia. So as I was doing my work, looking at the great power politics, especially China and India, and then looking at their focuses, what I realized was that in that particular comprehensive research strategy, especially for your audience, what came across was their focus, especially increasing focus on the space sector, including the commercialization of space in the last few years. So as a scholar, studying Great Power Politics and International Relations, I would be doing the domain a disservice if I did not include space as a part of my analysis. And that’s how my decision since the last seven, eight years to include space in my overall understanding of international relations.
That’s wonderful that the activity actually drove that decision. who have been some of your partners and mentors along the way, and how have they helped you?
You know, Lee, there are so many people who have inspired me, as I mentioned, my father, my mother’s simplicity and her wonderful advice to me to be able to connect with the universe, especially in the mountain town I grew up where I could look at the stars without too much electricity. So that was one inspiration. In terms of my brother, I cannot forget to mention my brother Sanjay Goswami who was always interested in space as well as all of us growing up in the 1980s watching Star Trek, Star Wars and also Indian folk tales on the universe. So, he has been a big inspiration and support. And in academia, I would say my professors, especially Professor Chakraborty, from Cotton College, which was my college where I did my graduation. My PhD supervisors Professor Amitabh Mattoo, and Professor Conti Botchphi from Jawaharlal Nehru University, my co-author, Peter Garretson, who has been a big support and in terms of how we conceptualize space. And so, and also folks like Dennis Wingo, who wrote Moon Rush, who had long conversations with me explaining the critical importance of the moon. So, the list is endless. I have so many other people that I can mention in that particular influence factor.
It makes for a wonderful career when you have so many wonderful partners, and support. Yeah. What have been some of your biggest challenges in your career?
So, there are two challenges I can think of one is, of course, as a woman coming from a very remote area in India to educate yourself, especially when there is traditional pressure to get married very early and not pursue a PhD. So, I would say, to the path of becoming an academic entrepreneur, I understood the unique challenges women can face, especially women coming from regions that do not have that kind of support structure. The second challenge that I faced in terms of becoming an entrepreneur was the risk that you have to take, especially when you do not want to be affiliated with a particular university or institution. It takes a bit of courage and the willingness to take financial risk to establish your own consultancy, and to be willing to live very simply. So, I found that challenging in the beginning, but I’ve learned a lot from that. And besides those two challenges, the third challenge, I would say, is to establish yourself at a level where people, especially in the space community across the world, start to listen to you and take you seriously, and for that, I think very hard work, research, understanding of details, objective bipartisan analysis, as the Space Foundation also aspires for, is a challenge as well.
I love that just the meat of the work is the greatest challenge, really, the focus on study, and making a difference in understanding. And now we’ll take a short break for some great insight on what’s happening at Space Foundation.
Space Foundation is a nonprofit advocacy organization offering gateways to information, education, and collaboration for space exploration and space inspired industries that drive the global space ecosystem. Space Foundation, Advocating for Innovation. Bettering Life on Earth.
Welcome back to our entrepreneurship interview with Dr. Namrata Goswami, independent scholar on Space Policy. Before the break, we talked about some of the biggest challenges you’ve encountered in your work. Now tell us about some of your most cherished successes.
So that’s such a wonderful question. Because when I thought about that, when I received that question, in different panels across the world, the one thing that I really cherish as an entrepreneur is to be able to make an impact at the national level, both in the US, but also globally. And so that was something that makes me feel very grateful, because the success of being able to be heard, for your perspective, especially my analysis of international relations, and Space Policy and Space Advocacy has been one of my successes, and I feel very appreciative of that. The second success that I can think of is the ability to publish. So as an independent scholar and entrepreneur, it gives me great satisfaction that my opinion pieces have been published at a national level, including the Washington Post, my research has been reflected back in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, the Diplomat, Live and Converse Magazine, which is a village base community publication, very similar, again, to what the Space Foundation aspires for, building global networks based on not just global conversations, but also community local conversations, so that I see as a success. And I think, finally, I would say that being able to publish books at the academic level. So, in the domain of Space Policy and space theory and space power, it is really critical as an independent scholar to be able to publish and get published by academic presses. So, the fact that Rowman and Littlefield, which is a very reputable academic press, reached out for a book proposal after listening to me present at the International Studies Association Conference in 2017. And then the whole process of writing the book, and being able to publish it within deadline, and then to see the book have an impact in terms of space conversations, space advocacy, space resources. Just recently, the book was listed as a strategic reading requirement by Forbes list on readings for Space Policy. And so, I think I feel a great amount of satisfaction, and a feeling of success because of that.
That’s wonderful. And I do want to reiterate for our audience that you published two books in 2020. And that makes for one of the most productive pandemic experiences I’ve heard about anywhere. Can you describe the process of, sounds like you were invited to publish the one book? And, you know, how is that how does that process work? As an independent scholar?
So, for an independent scholar, or for anyone in academia, I think the process is similar. So first, you read the literature that exists, including literature across academia, government, commercial actors, think tanks, bipartisan conversations, nonpartisan conversations, like The Space Foundation, and then you think about what is that idea that needs to be, you know, sketched out more need, where you need more data where you need more conversations. So, in an academic book, what you need to do is that you need to start with a hypothesis, which for your audience would mean a statement that can be falsified. So, if, for example, if I say that space resources are what is going to determine the great power competition in 2060, it has to be a falsifiable hypothesis. There could be data that can counter that, and that’s where the science method comes in. So, you start with an idea like that, and then what you need to do is, once you have an idea, you need to find someone who will fund you for that particular idea. So, you write a book proposal, which I did, and my co-author did, Peter Garretson. And then once you have funding, which we got through the Minerva research grant, from the Office of the Secretary of Defense, after that process, once you have the idea, you have the book proposal, you have the funding, you basically then would want to look for a publisher. In my case, as I mentioned, I was presenting a part of that idea, and it got picked up by Lexington Press, a part of Rowman, and Littlefield. And then once you have that, I think it’s very critical to get the data. So you have the idea, you have the funding, you have the publisher, now you have to be able to not just do secondary survey, which means looking at documents and articles and published work, but you also have to do fieldwork. So, I was very fortunate to be able to do fieldwork in both China and India and the US in terms of collecting data through which we interviewed policymakers, academia, commercial actors. And then once you have the data you write, the writing is the hardest, because you have to, it took us about three years to write the book. So, it’s a long process of writing the chapters. And then once it’s an academic book, especially for your audience, I would say that academic books are different from public books or books that are published by non-academic presses. So, in academic books, you go through a very stringent process of peer review. So, there are two anonymous reviewers who would review a book and unless you are able to pass that process, which is about six months, the book does not get published. So, we have to go through the process as well. So that’s how a book is basically conceptualized, I would say, it’s a very exciting and passionate engagement, especially if it’s on a topic that you enjoy working on.
Wonderful, yes, the amount of pre-work that needs to be done before you secure a publisher funding. Sound sounds daunting. And you have to have a certain amount of confidence going into that, that you will be published. So, getting down to the business of business, who are your key customers? And how do you balance business development with your academic work?
So my key customers are multi, a multiple set of actors, one, one of my key customers, of course, the US government, especially the federal government, where I not only produce policy papers, including, as I mentioned, based on a research grant for the Department of Defense, but then I also do workshops and consultancy for the US Space Force. To an extent, I give lectures around the world, including in the US at universities, who was one of my primary, you know, actors or clients, if I may. And finally, besides lectures and writing, I also do consultancy for commercial space sector. So, I basically offer my analysis on international relations, especially deep dives into countries like China, the United States, Luxembourg, India, because private sector is interested in understanding that particular world. So therefore, I’m a part of my clients as well. And then one of my clients, which has been a contributor in terms of creating visibility has also been the media, different media platforms, for which if I write an article, I get paid an honorarium. And so, it has been a very exciting and very fulfilling environment in which I’ve been able to work. So those are my basic clients in terms of my work.
Wonderful. And tell us about, you mentioned the importance of advocacy and how much you care about getting that word out how gratifying it is to see that people are absorbing the work that you’re putting out, talk about the importance of that advocacy and awareness about space for the general public.
I think Lee that is the most critical aspects. So, for example, one of my advocacies is to highlight the importance of space. At the level of international global conversations, which I try every day through my working, my presentations, my conversations, it is very important to explain the critical importance of space for me to not just international relations conversations, as I mentioned before, but also to explain to the population across countries as to why space is critical. What is it about space that people need to care for? For example, I have to highlight issues like navigation, your global positioning system, right? The fact that you can use GPS on your phone, not many people realize that it’s dependent on about four satellites supporting it, right. So in China’s, of course, the bio navigation system, which has their own system, the fact that you can use your ATM, or you can use your credit card, the fact that you can have weather forecasting, like you can have a prediction of a storm or a hurricane. Or, for example, one of my other important advocacy roles is to highlight the importance of international global collaboration in terms of space, the global community looking at space as a common domain. And then actually, from that position, trying to understand both the competitive and the cooperative part of space. So, I have a, my whole life I can say, is geared towards that to raise the visibility of space in terms of those different levels of conversation. And I think besides advocacy, it’s very important to be timely. So especially for an independent scholar, it is really critical that for example, if there is an event, say the Chinese have launched a space component to create their permanent space station, there is an audience at that exact time to understand the implications of that. And so, based on your advocacy, which is supported by very deep, detailed research, you can then write an article that can help people understand what that means. So, advocacy is critical in terms of highlighting the importance of space. And I’ll end by saying that if you look at the US space conversations today, the need for advocacy is very high, especially the growing importance of the commercial space sector, including companies like SpaceX and Blue Origin. Why should the US public be interested in space, we knew why the US public needed to be interested during the Cold War, because it was a competition with the USSR as to which is the more attractive ideology. That is not the case today, it’s more about space economy, the importance of space for critical infrastructure, and advocacy, explaining that to the electorate, that actually funds separate space programs is critical.
You do such a nice job of balancing what you mentioned about competitive forces and collaborative forces, side by side, always, always in play. And just as a consumer, I really appreciate your expertise there. Is there anything else you would like to share with our audience today?
The only thing I would like to share with your audience today, given the fact that the Space Foundation and the larger audience is a nonpartisan group that works for global understanding of space and collaboration to a very large extent, I would say that it’s really important to understand that the context of how space is viewed has changed. So as I mentioned before, the Cold War understanding of space as an area of competition, where you can showcase the attractiveness or particular sector, which is limited to prestige, very limited presence in space, three days, to the extent of if I remember some of the moon landings, that particular idea of spaces changed. Today, space is about economic benefits, space is about how you can uplift people on earth, from say, getting access to the internet, which is satellite based internet. And finally, if you listen to the conversations coming out of countries like China, and to an extent Russia today and India, space is about establishing permanent presence. So how can space resources, for example, resources in the moon can benefit people and turn humanity into a truly spacefaring civilization. So, the context of space is changing. And that is why I’ll get back to my TED Talk, democratization of space is becoming more critical. So, during the Cold War, it was a very elite state funded astronauts that got the opportunity to go to space. Today space is not yet there, we still need to have billions to be able to go to space. But one day, my vision and my hope is that we will be able to access launch systems which are usable for person like me to be able to go to space or my children coming after, who can afford to go to space like our grandfathers were able to access plane tickets, which were expensive at one time, but then the cost of it came down. And that’s where true democratization of space will happen.
So exciting. Namrata, thank you so much for sharing your journey with us today.
Thank you. And thank you for having me. It’s a great honor for me.
If you’re interested in learning more about our Space Commerce program or watching other entrepreneurship interviews, go to spacefoundation.org and check out our Space Commerce series under our Center for Innovation and Education. Thank you and we look forward to seeing you again. There’s a place for you in the new global space ecosystem.
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