The startup that wants to send you to space

Do you want to be an astronaut? Of course you do – you’re not boring.

If the six-year-old you dreamed of going to space, but as an adult failed to get the experience as a pilot, physicist or other highly skilled technician required to hop a flight to the stars, it’s not too late. That’s according to Space Nation, which wants to train everybody as astronauts and send them one by one into space.

 “Only a few people have gone to space so far, less than 600 people in the whole human history,” said Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, founder of Space Nation and CEO at Cohu, ahead of the opening of the Slush startup conference in Helsinki. “We want to change all that.”

How do you get involved? Download an app and play the game. If you rank high enough in your mobile training, suggesting you have the requisite “qualities” to become an astronaut, you’ll be able to apply for actual astronaut training – and from there, one person will be picked next year to jet off into the stars.space_station_app_astronaut_career_-_3

“Everyone can start the training, first in mobile, and then if you really want to achieve and [show] excellence and are top of the training ranking, you can enter the astronaut training programme,” said Vähä-Jaakkola. The app isn’t yet available, but is expected to be released in the first quarter of next year.

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The in-person, field training will consist of three months of intensive mental, physical, social and teamwork preparation, and take place at as-yet-undisclosed locations around the world. Those that succeed at the field training will have the chance to become the single individual chosen by Space Nation to blast off at the end of next year.

“We’ll enable anybody to become an astronaut,” said Slush founder Peter Vesterbacka, speaking at the launch. The aim is to encourage education, entrepreneurship and entertainment. Even if you don’t get to go to space – and let’s face it, it’s still not likely you will, apologies to you and your dreams – the astronaut skills you learn will help you out in your boring old Earth job, Vähä-Jaakkola said.

Space Nation’s representatives wouldn’t say exactly how it will be sending those successful astronauts into space, but it’s partnered with space firm Axiom, which is planning the first commercial space station, with its first modules booked to head up to the International Space Station in 2020.space_station_app_astronaut_career_-_2

While one person will be flown up each year, that could increase in the future. That’s not adding a whole lot more astronauts to the tally, but the aim is to inspire people and get them considering space as a possibility. “We aim to create a new moonshot phenomenon,” said Vähä-Jaakkola, aiming to inspire people to consider space as a possibility.

And to Axiom, it really is a possibility. The company – headed by the former director of the ISS, Michael Suffredini – hopes stations like the one it’s planning will become the “gateway to deep space”, acting as a stepping stone to living in space, further exploration, and helping to achieve Elon Musk’s goal of sending humans to Mars. Suffredini suggested the world’s governments had “ceded” low-Earth orbit to commercial companies, who can set up the infrastructure for tourism, mining and manufacturing, research and more. Launch partners haven’t been revealed, but Suffredini suggested he was meeting with a potential company in the UK next week.

While 2016 has been an awful enough year to make anyone want to escape to any other available planet, the speakers all hoped the project could help bring people together here on earth. Gary Johnson, astronaut number 471, said at the launch that space is better at politics than politicians, with people from a variety of nations – including constant rivals American and Russia – working together easily, regardless of foreign-policy tensions on Earth.

“People are building walls and separating nations, and we think it’s important that somebody stands up and does the opposite,” added Vesterbacka.

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