The CEO and founder of Space Perspective, Jane Poynter, talks to us about launching space travel’s very first luxury experience.
The commercial space race has been dominated by headlines from Bezos, Branson and Musk. Their rocket ships herald a new era in space flight and tourism for a select few. But hot on the heels of these high-profile space bros is another relatively more accessible offering that aims at an altogether gentler, more luxurious experience.
Imagine sipping on a martini, breathing deeply and looking over the blue layers that demarcate the edge of the atmosphere as the sun edges up slowly in the curved horizon. You’re dressed in your favourite cocktail club outfit and cast your eye, scanning the coastline below, a star’s view of where land slowly meets the oceans on planet Earth. It might sound more like science fiction, but it’s closer to reality than you think.
Space Perspective: Reimagined Space Travel
Jane Poynter and Taber MacCallum, partners in business and life, have launched a unique experience onboard the ground-breaking, pressurised Spaceship Neptune, a luxury-cruise experience in the sky. Travellers in a piloted pod will ascend into the edge of space, some 100,000 feet high, using flight technology used for decades at NASA – another of Poynter and MacCallum’s companies, Paragon Space Development Corporation, has supplied life-support system equipment to the agency for years – and state-of-the-art space-balloon-engineering.
Space Perspective’s trips will enable eight people, plus a pilot, in each Spaceship Neptune capsule to experience 360-degree, 725-kilometre views of space, the stars, sunrises and sunsets, as well as epic, breathtaking views of Earth below. The profound, six-hour, once-in-a-lifetime journey can be shared with friends and family, and even be the setting for special events, such as small weddings or concerts.
This summer, for the first time ever, your ticket to explore space with Poynter’s company is available to book online. Start saving.
You and your husband, Taber, have both worked on space research for decades and advised Elon Musk on Space X, as well as helping Google executive Alan Eustace to set the world record for the highest-altitude free-fall jump. So how did you have the idea of going into space tourism in this format?
Our entire careers have been devoted to looking at ways of taking people to space in a way that’s more accessible, and rockets just didn’t seem to be it yet. I mean, there’s a lot of energy with a rocket, right? And it’s still a fairly nascent technology. And experientially, I think getting on a rocket is difficult for a lot of people to get their heads around – and we’ve got high Gs and a lot of vibration and training. So we were looking for a way for people to have that astronaut experience in a much more comfortable, relaxed, gentle way.
When Taber was in his early teens, he saw his astrophysicist father send a large gamma-ray telescope under a space balloon to study our Milky Way – he was actually on the team that discovered the black hole at the centre of the Milky Way galaxy. Taber remembered seeing these balloons going up and remembered the elegance and how gentle they were. He walked into my office one day and said, “What do you think about taking people up under a space balloon?” And that was it. That’s the idea. That’s exactly what we were looking for.
The cost per ticket per person is US$125,000, once you start flying in 2024. How did you come up with this price?
It’s expensive and definitely for the wealthy, but I actually expected it to be more. Well, it’s less than half the price of Virgin Galactic … actually it was half the price, as Virgin has gone from about US$250,000 to $425-450,000. So it’s quite likely you’ll see our price go up in the future, but we want this to be accessible to as many people as possible. The demand is such that we’ll almost certainly be putting the price up before it comes down. Our long-term vision is for it to come down, but I think it would be a while before it does.
Your travellers will take off from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida and land in the ocean alongside a luxury yacht. What will the sensation be like during the journey? Is it like being on a plane?
It’s even smoother than being on a plane … there’s going to be a bar, there’ll be food. There’s no zero gravity or space suit, so you can lounge, and there’s a bathroom. When you’re in an aeroplane you’re going through the air, so you sometimes get that buffeting. We’re going up through the air, but we’re going so slowly, at 12mph [20km/h], that it’s incredibly smooth … It’s not the same mechanism as a hot-air balloon, but I suppose by analogy and experientially it’s similar. So, it’s not really like anything you’ve ever experienced before, but it’s very smooth.
So parts of the journey will be very different from what astronauts experience. What part is similar?
We talked with a lot of astronauts about what the quintessential experience of being in space is. And you know what almost the universal response is? It’s experiencing Earth from space. The zero-G part is cool, but it can also be kind of annoying. The rocket ride is like, OK … but it’s really that experience of looking down at Earth, which you’ll be able to see.
Take us through where in space and the atmosphere you’ll be able to visit as a traveller with Space Perspective?
It takes two hours to go up to space. And then you’re really sitting on top of the atmosphere for about two hours, floating, and about two hours to come back down again. If you think about that, we’re in that last 1 percent of the atmosphere, and we’re 20 miles above the planet. And that last 1 percent extends for many, many, many miles beyond the International Space Station. So everything that you think of in low Earth orbit, that’s all in that last 1 percent of the atmosphere.
You have 450 people booked already and 2024 flights are full. So, the next vacancies are for 2025. Who are the clients, where are they from and what are their backgrounds?
So 80 percent of them at the moment are American and I think that’s mostly because it’s where the majority of our press has been to date. And the rest is from all over the world. About 70 percent of those who’ve booked are men, which doesn’t mean to say they aren’t going to take female companions with them. We also don’t know exactly, for some of the flights, who the other customers are. About 45 percent of our flights have been booked as complete capsule flights between people. So sometimes we’ll have somebody call and they say, “Would you book two seats for me right now? But could you hold the rest of the capsule for a few days? I’m just gonna go call some friends.” And then a couple of days later, they’ll call back and go, “OK, I need the whole capsule.”
More people are getting the chance to go into space, with this early era of commercial space travel. How do you think this will change us?
I think that having more and more people go into space translates into a greater understanding of what the space industry at large brings to our everyday lives. Eventually with millions of people having that experience of seeing Earth in space, whether it’s from where we’re flying in suborbital flight, or from the moon or Mars, or from low Earth orbit in a space hotel one day, it’s going to have a huge ripple effect, because it’s the kind of experience that you don’t un-experience, right? Once you’ve had that perspective change, you can’t go back to the way you were before.
This article first appeared on Prestige Online Hong Kong.