From riding a little red tractor in MS to remotely driving a robot on the moon

Fred attending Senior Football Night, Kings Academy.
Fred attending Senior Football Night, Kings Academy.
Credits:
Tom Look

Fred J. Bourgeois, III has been dreaming and making plans to pursue space exploration from a very early age.

Growing up in a “NASA family” probably had a lot to do with that. Originally from Waveland, Mississippi, Bourgeois spent most of his childhood and pre-college years in Huntsville, Alabama, where he attended Virgil I. “Gus” Grissom High School along with scores of other NASA kids.

Bourgeois was early recognized for his mathematical talents, and went on to receive his BSCS degree from Tulane University’s School of Engineering. After attending the Tulane Graduate School, he began a career in academia teaching Computer Science at the University of Minnesota, and later for Eaton Corporation’s Information Management Systems Division, and several University extension programs.

Bourgeois’ teaching for Eaton included support for clients utilizing satellite systems and networks, and command, control, and communications programs. He next worked as a contractor on classified programs at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory near Pasadena, California.

Weary of the classified world, he moved to Santa Cruz, California (near Silicon Valley), where he initially worked for MetaWare Incorporated as a Senior Compiler Developer, and then into his own software development and consulting business, FREDNET.

Operating for more than 16 years, the company was renamed Applios Inc. (Applied Open Source Technology) in 1999 providing Software Development, Systems Engineering, Networking, and Information Security solutions. Applios’ former clients include Lockheed Martin, NEC, AMD, Transmeta, Resilience, Sun, SJSU, many Silicon Valley startup companies, and a number of local, regional, and national Internet Service Providers.

Fred is the Founder and Leader of Team FREDNET, the First and Only International Open Source Competitor for the Google Lunar X PRIZE. He entered this venture with two of his colleagues, Rich Core and Dan Smith by sending this email

“Doing the impossible. Going for the Lunar X PRIZE, open source. Interested in joining?”

They believed and as time passed so did 700 volunteers from 60 countries and 6 continents. Team FREDNET was one of the first ten Teams to enter the competition. Fred leads the Team in pursuit of the prize alongside billion dollar companies, yet the model for the Team is rooted in a small non-profit 501(c)(3). As an open source team, it gives everyone or “Everyman” the opportunity to have a voice and to become a part of the larger space community.

Adversity has been a way of life for Fred. At two, the doctors, after surgery, gave “Freddie” one year to live. His mom said: “He will live because he has something important to add to this world.” At three, the doctors, after eight hours of major reconstructive surgery, gave him 48 hours to live. An R.N. and his grandmother, an LPN, rotated standing by his bedside. His mom stayed awake for the 48 hours making sure he knew she was there telling him he would be o.k.. He survived. Dr. Lamar Weems, his doctor, stated solemnly: “Somebody up there likes him.”

Freddie and his mom spent that summer and fall of his third year of life living at University of Mississippi Hospital. He rode his little red tractor (the kind you move your feet to go forward) up and down the halls, pulling behind him a little cart with all the i.v. tubes and other paraphernalia keeping him alive. He laughed and smiled as he sped down the halls weaving in and out between the steady flow of patients, nurses, and doctors. They would smile back at him and shake their heads in awe…the “medial miracle” child.

Thanksgiving marked the day he came home only to begin a new chapter of going back to the hospital every other week for a year. Medical students studied Freddie’s medical history; he and his mom attended a few medical conferences to answer questions about the first two years of his life before the operations. Minutes turned into days and weeks and months and years with doctor visits scheduled monthly, semi-monthly, and yearly. Finally, at age five, Dr. Weems said: “Perhaps he will live a normal life. Perhaps he will live to be 62. We just don’t know. Bring him back at least every other year.” Contact sports were not allowed; that was the only precaution given.

Once you realize that you are going to die, regardless of age, you look at a broader scope and want to use everything to the max. Here is a child who knew his life would be limited but still kept reaching for the heavens and wanted to make a mark on it before he got there. In the words of Saul Alinsky: “Once you accept your own death, all of a sudden you’re free to live. You no longer care about your reputation. You no longer care except so far as your life can be used tactically to promote a cause you believe in.”

When the GLXP prize announced the challenge, Fred said: “This is what I am supposed to do.” The emails reached receptive minds of Core and Smith. Thus began the adventure to place a robot on the moon, travel 500 meters and stream video images back to earth.

Team FREDNET is a 501(c)(3) tax exempt non-profit research and education foundation that began with a vision of reaching the Lunar surface by developing all of the required systems using the same successful Open Participation model that worked so well to create other massively participatory software development programs. Specifically, the Space Development Program is based on past and ongoing developments of things like the protocols underlying the Internet (TCP/IP) and free and open software such as the Linux, FreeBSD, and Ubuntu operating systems. The Team just completed four years of development toward the first major goal (building the first privately funded mission to the Moon), and had a few success stories along the way.

Bourgeois states: “We’ve attracted and built a community of more than 700 volunteers from more than 60 countries on all 6 populated continents, which was a pretty good start. Our community covers a pretty diverse age range too, with volunteers ages running from 7 years old to ’70-something’. This community includes not only a lot of serious science and engineering talent, but also people from many other walks of life – because building a lunar mission requires more talents than just engineering and science. We accomplished a few pretty impressive things in the past few years, including being one of only six organizations in the world to be selected by NASA as a contractor in the Innovative Lunar Demonstrations Data (ILDD) program – which gives us an opportunity to provide data from our Lunar Mission to NASA scientists to help in the development of NASA’s future human and robotic Lunar missions.

“We’ve attracted some incredibly talented people into our leadership community, too. Mike Brown, Ph.D., who serves as the Richard and Barbara Rosenberg Professor of Planetary Astronomy at the California Institute of Technology, came on board early in 2011 as Chief Scientist to guide all science initiatives. Mike also offered a course at CalTech this quarter entitled Ge 194: Roving on the Moon, in which students were tasked to develop, design, and build a fully functioning prototype lunar rover capable of fulfilling the requirements of the Google Lunar X PRIZE‘ with the further incentive that a ‘successful design of this type has a chance of being incorporated into the lunar mission of Team FREDNET. (See the class web site at http://web.gps.caltech.edu/~mbrown/classes/ge194-glx/ for full details.)

“Our young volunteer participants have gained some notoriety as well these last two years. We’ve been working closely with several groups of young innovators (ages 7-18) who have built robots for a number of competitions. One of our young participant teams – the LegoAces of Granville, Ohio – won Second Place in the 2010 International LEGOTM MoonBots 1.0 Challenge, and this year reached even higher, taking the Grand Prize in the 2011 International LEGOTM MoonBots 2.0 Challenge! (Please read more about LegoAces on their web site at http://www.LegoAces.org/ – and sign up to Drive the Rover to Earn Your Lunar Drivers License!)”

Fred works from his home each day communicating with Team volunteers through Skype, email, text messaging and conference calls. He has crisscrossed the world bringing his message of “going for your dream” while building and binding the Team together. Dedicating his life to achieve this dream, Fred continues to inspire people of all ages to believe that conquering space will greatly benefit future generations.

Fred defied odds and lived to become a visionary, a leader, and a serial entrepreneur continuing to live his life doing what he loves. He represents the epitome of a Renaissance Man.

, Huntsville Computers Examiner

Linda Bourgeois (Davidson) author/editor: Remembering Margaret Mitchell (1992); author, A Process Report of the Service Delivery System in Alabama for the Developmentally Disabled and companion Summary and Conclusions (1981); author Minor Poets, Major People (1985); chapter in book: “History of…

Copyright: Linda Bourgeois, Ph.D.

2 thoughts on “From riding a little red tractor in MS to remotely driving a robot on the moon

    • Yes, he had a hard time, however, he never acted or expected to be treated any differently.
      I am very proud of him as well as my daughter, who leads a much quieter life in many ways.

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