Wednesday, November 30, 2022

Final Frontier: A View from the Space Perspective

When the Apollo Lunar Module Eagle landed on the moon and Neil Armstrong walked across its surface and uttered his famous line (you know the one), Americans witnessed the dawn of a new era of possibilities. The glass ceiling of the night sky had at last been broken by mankind’s ingenuity and ability to manifest the seemingly impossible. Now, more than 50 years later, Space Perspective Cofounder and CEO Jane Poynter is on a mission to take us on another small step from our home planet.

During her childhood spent on Britain’s Isle of Wight, a tour of space was just something that Poynter would find while sneakily reading Isaac Asimov late at night under her covers with a flashlight. “It didn’t occur to me at the time that I could actually be involved in space flight,” says Poynter, whose company will be launching up to eight travelers nearly 20 miles above the Earth’s surface from Kennedy Space Center in 2024—at $125,000 a seat—to see our planet from “the space perspective.”

Space tourism may sound like an industry pulled straight out of science fiction, but the same can be said for Poynter’s entire career. In 1991, she was part of the Biosphere 2 mission, the first attempt at a human-made biosphere that was used as a laboratory for understanding how our planet’s ecosystems work, as well as a prototype space base. For two years she lived in the steel and glass of the closed ecosystem, relying moment-to-moment on oxygen provided by the enclosure’s plant life. Poynter says that the experience was akin to what astronauts feel when looking at Earth from space.

Founder and Co-CEO of Space Perspective Jane Poynter

“They [astronauts] connect with this incredible idea that here’s this planet, our spaceship Earth, that we’re all crew members on,” says Poynter, and that “instead of seeing our world from the outside in, we saw this little tiny world from the inside out.” She recalls feeling that living in Biosphere 2 would be the closest she would get to visiting Mars.

Then, in 1993, she got one step closer to Mars when she co-founded Paragon Space Development, the company that would go on to drop former Google exec Alan Eustace nearly 136,000 feet from above the planet’s surface. Eustace free-fell for almost five minutes, broke the sound barrier, and still holds the record for the highest skydive. Today, Paragon has technology on every human-piloted spacecraft in America.

Poynter says that the cutting edge of innovation is “the river she swims in,” but that human space flight in particular has an “outsized ability to inspire.” And when tourists board the Spaceship Neptune capsule in 2024, they’re in for more than just a breathtaking view.

“When astronauts go to space and see our beautiful planet from that vantage point…they speak about it as almost like a consciousness change, like it really changes their perception of our world,” says Poynter.

The tour itself lasts about six hours, with guests boarding a capsule that is gently lifted at 12 mph via a balloon filled with lighter-than-air gas, with no g-force and no spacesuits required. As the capsule ascends, the “astronauts” will be able to enjoy a full bar and Wi-Fi in the “space lounge,” and a 360-degree panoramic view from the largest windows ever flown to space. When the capsule reaches its full altitude, the thin blue line of the atmosphere, our bright swirling Milky Way galaxy, and the enormity of our sun against the backdrop of black space will be in view.

Those onboard will be able to marvel at the magnificence of our world and the vast, glittering starscape that surrounds it for two hours, and then the descent will begin. A small amount of gas will be released from the balloon, and the capsule will slowly lower back to Earth, where it will land safely in the ocean and be lifted onto a boat for everyone to disembark.

Image courtesy of Space Perspective

Poynter believes that travelers today are looking for more in their travel experiences, yearning for adventure that is “with purpose” or “transformational,” which she hopes will be what those who take a Space Perspective tour will feel. While the price point may be high now, Poynter says that as demand increases, a trip to space will become more affordable for all.

“It’s very difficult for us to imagine now, at the very beginning of this, how it’s going to change all our lives, but it will.”

This article is from the September/October 2022 issue of Boca magazine. For more like this, click here to subscribe to the magazine.

Tyler Childress
Tyler Childress
Tyler is the Web Editor and a contributing writer for Boca Raton magazine. He covers tech, events, education, housing and other issues affecting South Floridians. Follow him on Twitter and send story tips to tyler@bocamag.com.

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