From the splashy headlines, one could be forgiven for thinking the civilian space race is strictly a billionaire boys club. Pandemic downtime found Jeff Bezos and Richard Branson literally rocketing out of the stratosphere to escape Covid isolation.
But, hold on. There’s another entrant on the space race scene and she’s 1. Not a billionaire and 2. Not a man.
Jane Poytner, founder and CEO of Space Perspective, has been dreaming of space flight her entire life and–if all goes according to plan–she’ll be taking the first cohort of civilians into space in 2024. And here’s where even more differences come in.
Space Perspective isn’t about rocketing up, floating around for an Instagram snap, and returning to earth in a few minutes. Poytner would like you to soak in the view from space. Which is why her company transports passengers into space via a large balloon at just 12 miles per hour (at that slow speed, there’s no ‘floating’ in space). And there’s a cocktail bar. This is a space party.
“When most people think about traveling to space they think about high G-forces and spacesuits and rockets and flames and The Right Stuff – and maybe it’s something for other people to do,” says Poytner, on a recent phone interview with Luxeicon from her office in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “So my co-founder (Taber MacCallum) and I have completely reimagined what spaceflight can be for people, and that starts with making it accessible.”
The balloon–which is a proven technology originally by NASA–gently floats passengers on a two-hour journey, culminating in “that incredible view that astronauts talk about as being deeply moving,” she explains. “That’s why we want to take people to space, to have that experience. Astronauts talk about it being life-changing for them.”
“I was one of those kids who was reading Isaac Asimov under my blanket at night with my torch as we say in England. So science fiction really captured my imagination, because a lot of sci fi, particularly back then, it wasn’t dystopian, it was this incredibly inspiring view of the future, a great exploration of what a future could be and it just captivated my imagination.”
As an adult, Poytner was a crew member on Biosphere 2, a project that saw her and a crew of people living in a self-sustaining environment for two years. After that experience, which she says helped her to understand what it could be like to set up an environment in space, she founded Space Perspective.
Spaceship Neptune is zero emissions and carbon friendly–an important component as companies like Space Perspective look to the future of mainstream space travel.
For now, the company is focused on simply getting people to space to experience the incredible view. Space Perspective even employed an “Experience Coordinator” to enhance the journey. The space vessel holds eight people plus a pilot (and yes, there’s a bathroom) and, says Poytner, the experience coordinator can create the aforementioned space party for your group–or you can climb aboard for a more meditative experience.
“In the near term, we’re focused on the company name. We want to take people to have this quintessential astronaut experience [a ‘space perspective]. It will be life changing,” she says. “We’re going to be taking eventually hundreds of thousands of people to space and that will make it life changing. There will be a ripple effect.”
But as space travel is normalized, might Poytner have her eye on colonization?
“As a company we are very focused on the now. We’re still on track to start commercial flights at the end of 2024, but I am a huge proponent of going further,” says Poytner. “How amazing would it be one day for people to be able to live on Mars? And I don’t just mean living on Mars or the moon like you’re going on an incredibly uncomfortable camping trip for a couple of days, but thriving.”