Reflections with Lim Seng

By Tan Yuhan and Ryan Tan

Though a man of many hats, Mr Lim Seng would much prefer to be known as a man of action, unconventionality, a straight-talker, and the beer representative of his battalion (they have never lost). He is a staunch advocate of using beer bonding and music to forge true friendships, as his personal stories of such events would testify to.

Despite his achievements, Mr Lim Seng remains humble and genuine. He insists that much of his successes were due to luck, and that it is not the brains, but the heart and guts, that defines a person. He is fond of leaving CVs untouched, instead spending time to get to truly know if a person has a “good heart” coupled with a “good mind”.

He is currently working on the 1S2S (1st Singaporean 2 Space) project and is looking for young volunteers. They will be provided with  OJT (On-the-Job-Training) in designing and developing a 2-seater space capsule, and to explore the intricacies in establishing a satellite rocket launch pad in South-east Asia near the Equator. Interested parties can contact him at GoSpace.1S2S@gmail.com.

If there is one person he looks up to, that would be the one great mentor in his life: Wesley D’Aranjo.

“He is really a great man. You can tell just by seeing how he talks to his wife and mother.”

In a nutshell, IN.Genius provides solutions to life challenges. IN.Genius has interesting roots; it came about when I was working with some top Russian scientists in Physics. At that time, the increase in the price of oil had affected aviation fuel prices. We thus had to reduce aviation fuel consumption. 

One way to do this was by flying with less drag. To accomplish this, we looked at how golf balls fly: they fly further, because they have dimples (the dents in the ball). We applied the same physics onto aeroplanes, and we had teams of 3-4 people globally to put that plan into action.

That was how IN.Genius started. A lot of people don’t understand why a small company can tackle such big projects. It’s simply this: you leverage, you network, and you bring smart (and good) people together. Go global. Stand on giants. Work with the BEST.

IN.Genius was formed with an ambitious motto: Have the vision, to see what is not yet here, and the courage to act on it. Many people today don’t wish to take any risks; they often leave it to others to do the risk-taking, while they simply provide dumb money. I can see this mindset pervading our society. We need the people to act. That’s why one of the motivations for 1S2S (1st Singaporean 2 Space) is to show people that while we have the brains, you must also have the heart and courage to put it into action. Having brains alone is not good enough. Being smart alone is not sufficient.

My job is always to look into the future, because then you can engineer the solution for today. Many people today are very busy with the quotidian, the tactical; few are strategic, long-term, in their thinking. Having strategic, long-term thinking is crucial, because to survive in any industry, you cannot let things “just happen”; you have to deliberately engineer the whole game plan. That’s why it ultimately comes down to people; it comes to what we call “leaders”. And if you break it down further, people say that “leaders are born”. Not wrong, but I would say that we cannot just leave it to chances. It is too unpredictable. Therefore, you must plan how to create the leaders, in a deterministic fashion. I believe that can be done, but it must be a deliberate and structured exercise.

Singapore Astronautics was formed because we wanted to teach Space Science. It’s more for education – another pillar I wanted to push. It’s in education that you can mould the next generation to save a country, to be better than the current generation. Inside all these young people, you just need one Henry Ford. What you need is not only brains, but entrepreneurial spirit: the “Chong-ters” (Mandarin for rushing ahead; 冲).

Why Space Science? Because in Singapore, we always have a lack of space, so we need to create space. When you’re too congested, you either go up or go under. Metaphorically and philosophically, it’s very important, because you’re bringing people to tackle problems at a higher dimension. If you can’t solve problems in 2D, you solve it in 3D or even 4D. You always go to higher ground. Get a different perspective; see things in another optics. Not necessarily just physically, but also mentally.

To sum up, IN.Genius’ raison d’être – its reason for being – is for us, a very small company, to help solve global issues, life challenges, local issues. Issues that matter to people.

How do you teach people to be happy? You mentioned that your first lesson is to teach people to be happy.

You have to train the mind of the people – you have to tell every child, from when they’re born, to be happy every day. It’s a mastery of the mind, and it can be taught. Not just harping on maths and science.

You need first to have happy people, then comes responsibility, then attitude, then character, then leadership, then Maths and Science. I’m very serious about that – smart people do not mean good people. Many a time they may not be.

That’s why I wanted to form this new school, and I’ll show you how. It’s all in the process. I was in the NJC debate team; I always tell people, when you’re stuck, go for the fundamentals. Here it’s the same – ask yourself, ask the team, “define happiness in your own way.”  What makes you happy? What is happiness?

First, everyone is different, but there is a global wisdom. In our group of people, we keep brainstorming definitions of happiness. And we keep refining it. Eventually, we will approach a fundamental wisdom that applies to everyone. 

Second, have empathy. I define it as sympathy in action. Let’s say we see an old grandmother selling tissues, but a lot of people may complain and refuse to give. Another group of people may not act despite taking pity. And you ask yourself, what is 50 cents, 1 dollar, to you? If you can afford it, give it to the lady. Not only that, ask: If I’m as old as this person, do I have the courage to go to the hawker centre and sell tissue paper?

I’ll tell you very honestly, I may not. It’s too difficult. That is why I admire these old folks. Do you know how much courage is required, how much pride and hardship one suffers? Have empathy. When you help others, you become happy.

Third, keep smiling. People always ask me why I smile, or why I look so happy. First it makes you prettier, and it helps to make you happy. I have this habit of sitting right at the front of the lecture theatre, but don’t bring pen or paper. I’ll be looking at the professor, smiling and listening attentively. 

We need to make happiness into a pedagogy, to teach children how to be happy. It goes a long way. Not maths and science. They’re not the most important, nor life and death.

 

Mostly management of people; colleagues and bosses. The technical complexity is already hard enough, but there’s still the social complexity. That’s why, we must drink beer and bond together.

But back to the question: the biggest is about handling people, particularly complexes and egos. The management of the ego of people, notably complex bosses. There are bosses who are afraid of being replaced and hence cannot handle people that might be better than them. It’s sad, but it’s real. When you work, you will have to learn to manage your relationship with them somehow.

How do you manage it?

Just be yourself. You can’t explain your life to everybody every day. Just be yourself – the good people will see. Do not be apologetic for being good.

But is it a kind of privilege to be yourself, in a way?

You must first dare to do that and hope that there are wise people who don’t judge on the basis of your report. I have interviewed people without reading their CV in advance. I just talk to them, because their heart and attitude are more important. The brains are still important, yes, but not the most important.

Having said that, if you want to be yourself, you have to have the courage to deal with the consequences. But you’ll earn respect. People can see.

Working on 1S2S is not about showing others that we’re better. It’s to show ourselves that we can do it, at the individual level. At the country level, it’s to tell ourselves not to always condemn ourselves to be followers. Sometimes we can be leaders, if only you believe in yourself. 

Qualifications are of course necessary to put your foot through the door. If you want to enter any industry, you must first do your research and find out what skills they need. Then, you engineer yourself to fit the criteria. You have to do your homework; gain the knowledge of the market and the skills necessary. But that is merely the minimum requirement – the most important is to have the right attitude, and to be an independent leader. Then you’ll stand out from the rest because a lot of people “always ask approval” in guise of pushing responsibility “up or down”. 

You have to be upfront when you engage with people. 

You have to be street-smart, not book-smart.

You have to know your role. Being wise is better than being smart!

In the past, it’d be unimaginable for people like us to attempt going to Space – not even the stratosphere!

The evolution would be the increased possibility of our success to do so. That day (his last launch attempt), had I not hit the ground, I would have definitely made it past the Armstrong Line. I was going up very steadily at 7m per second, and I will surely cross the ArmStrong Line at 20,000m.

What was the issue that prevented you from going further up?

There was an operational issue during the launch that resulted in the capsule hitting the ground and disengaging the hatch, which is otherwise very tightly closed. A small misalignment of the capsule had caused a leakage of air, and we suffered depressurisation. An altitude of 24,000 ft is like the normal cruising altitude of a passenger jet. 

The operational issue during launch was that the capsule was released from the crane about 5 seconds too late. This caused the capsule to swing to the ground upon release. If you look at the impact, you’d see that the impact was really bad. My team thought that I had died; but inside, I was strapped down in my F1 chair (which can take up to 10 G of shock), had 8 G shock absorbers and was in my spacesuit. I survived with no problem and was fully awake.

It was really going up very well at 7m/s. The media and journalists love to advertise such things as a failure – it sells well – but we launched successfully despite hitting the ground. It’s an incredible success. TATA Institute of Fundamental Research Chief Scientist Suneel complimented us saying how unbelievable it was, launching with only 9 people, whereas most Space agencies launch with about 50 people. Sure, we hit the ground, but we did launch, and we went up there, activated and validated our emergency abort system, and ALL worked perfectly. It landed exactly where we predicted, and it validated our simulation predictions. It landed softly, showing that the shock absorbers and crushable were good.

And, I survived! To me, the mission was more than successful, it validated the entire process and system. It was a great success despite not crossing the Armstrong Line. To us, that exemplifies that the process is more important than the outcome.

Where do you think the industry is going?

I think that the private sector will make it more cost effective for people to go to Space. The government agencies tend to be – with good reason – heavily bureaucratic. Bureaucracy isn’t a bad word. As the dinosaur grows, you need a lot of checks and balances. 

That is an internal drive. I have done many things in life, but every morning when I wake up – and I’m not exaggerating – I’ll ask myself: what else more can I do? And I’ll search, and search. It’s really a strange boot-up software that I have embedded in me, and I really like it! My fear is waking up one day and not feeling that drive anymore. Maybe it’s because I’ve been doing something all my life, so it’s like a drug or compulsion that I must be doing something.

I also watch my food intake. Seriously! It really keeps you alert, and I learnt this from Wesley D’Arango, a really great mentor I have. He is the one who taught me all of this, by being an example. Really a great man, and I look up to him greatly.

And how would I know that? Just by seeing how he talked to his wife and mother. You don’t need to see CVs to know who good people are. You look at how he treats people.

“We have led by example on 31 May 2019 6.45 am.  We had a successful launch despite missing the 20km ArmStrong Line mark. We have walked our talk.

We now call for CITIZENS who believe in 1S2S intent to come forward, help us make this happen. 

We now call for LEADERS who believe in actions beyond talking to come forward, help us make this happen.

We call COMPANIES who believe in leadership to come forward and help us make this happen.

For SINGAPORE’S FUTURE!

Email us: GoSpace.1S2S@gmail.com

Please click: www.gospace.sg

Please watch: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=WwS33cIq9kY