Anticipation is one of life’s greatest gifts. Few things give us greater joy. It’s something that is always present — every minute, every hour, every day.

It explains my love of exploration and space travel, which stems from my days as a young boy.

I remember not being able to sit still as I watched John Glenn’s spacecraft in the minutes before lifting off from Cape Canaveral in 1962, making him the first American to orbit Earth. It was the exact same feeling I had moments before Neil Armstrong made his giant leap for mankind seven years later.

I never imagined then that in my lifetime the average person might be given the chance to take a space vacation. But seeing William Shatner go into space on a Blue Orion last month was a game-changing moment for space travel.

Astronaut Steve Smith

As much as many of us would love to scratch rocketing into space off of our travel bucket lists, it’s not the anticipation of space travel that most excites former San Jose astronaut Steve Smith about the future of the space industry. Or me. With good reason.

It’s the potential for new technologies that improve our lives. And the role the Bay Area could play in making them happen.

Our belief in the ability of technology to be a force for good in the world has taken some major hits in recent years. Yes, the creation of vaccines to fight COVID-19 will likely stand as one of the great developments of this century. But the negative impact of social media on the health of our democracy and tech firms’ ongoing invasion of our privacy have severely damaged the tech industry’s reputation. Multiple surveys show a sharp fall in public trust of the industry’s biggest companies, and fewer than half of Americans now trust Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Amazon with their personal data.

The advent of what is being called Space 2.0 offers the valley a fresh opportunity to craft new companies and technologies that help solve some of our biggest challenges. And rebuild its sagging reputation.

“It’s through exploration that we have always discovered things that we never expected,” said Smith. “That’s why we need to go back to the moon, why we need to go to Mars. When you go into space, you discover new technologies that help life on earth.”

Smith grew up in San Jose and attended Leland High School and has two electrical engineering degrees and an MBA from Stanford University. He flew on four space shuttle missions and performed seven spacewalks, including five to repair the Hubble Space Telescope.

He notes that NASA has created more than 2,000 spinoffs of commercial products that changed life on Earth, including, for example, the computer mouse, cell phone cameras, ear thermometers, air purifiers, use of satellites for long-distance communication, scratch-resistant lenses and fire fighter gear.

Smith is most excited about the potential for developing technologies to save the planet from the impact of climate change.

“When an astronaut goes into space, there is this moment of awe,” Smith said. “When you look back at Earth, it’s gorgeous, but you also realize it’s an island in a vast ocean. You need to be kind to it.

“Right now we have a real lack of respect for Earth, which is hard to believe. People buy more stuff than they have to and are accumulating goods rather than experiences. We need to focus on taking care of our planet. Space exploration clearly gives us a chance to do better in all areas of the climate and help turn the tide (on what we’re doing to our planet).”

Space technologies are improving our ability to detect the impact of human activity on climate change. And they are working to create satellite broadband that will provide internet access to the most remote rural areas on Earth.

All told, investment in private space companies has exceeded $10 billion this year, a new annual record for the industry. Economists expect the global space industry could generate revenues of more than $1 trillion or more by 2040.

It isn’t just Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos who are investing in the world of space exploration. Dozens of space-technology startups dot the Bay Area, including Sunnyvale’s SpinLaunch, Menlo Park’s LeoLabs and Alameda’s Astra.

On the night of Armstrong’s first walk on the moon, famed CBS News anchor Walter Cronkite said, “The least of us is improved by the things done by the best of us because if we are not able to lead at least we are able to follow.”

As for me, I love the anticipation of where this new wave of innovation might take us.