The Future Car Podcast | Space Tourism and the Overview Effect with Jane Poynter
On the future car podcast, we touch on many aspects of our future mobility, such as autonomous and electric cars, as well as other modes of transportation, air taxis, electric boats. But today we're going to take a look at yet another form of our future mobility, traveling to space. In recent years, Space travel has changed from something that only a few could experience to becoming more accessible with many commercial companies jumping into the space travel business and with us today is the founder and CEO of one of those companies, Jane Poynter, Jane Poynter. of Space Perspective, where they've developed the world's first carbon neutral way to travel to the edge of space propelled by a balloon and with a goal to change people's view and perception of Earth. Jane, welcome to the Future Car Podcast. Hello, hello.
How fun to be here. Listen, I want to start. Right away and and ask you about the Explorers Club, which you are a member of and that is a group of members that are responsible for the famous firsts of Humankind the first to the top of Mount Everest the first of the North and South Pole the first to the moon's surface So tell me What is the key thing that Space Perspective hopes to be the first of? Ooh, love it. So, what we're really about is completely changing the paradigm of space. I mean, you said it right at the beginning, right? That really, to date, space has really been for the few. And we are wanting to completely change that so that we can have...
Thousands of people going to space. Remember, to date, only 650 people have ever been to space. Fewer than that number. I mean, that's a minuscule number of people. And we're wanting to be the first to... Take thousands and thousands of people to space every year part of this One of the things when I first heard about you it says completely carbon neutral way to get to space and you think How could that be possible? I see these rockets going up into space all this smoke and everything going on exhaust whatever it's called Sustainability is a big part of what you're trying to do.
How is that an inspiration and how did it play a key part? And what you're doing is space perspective It's actually core to the business and it actually goes all the way back to my days in Biosphere 2. So Tabor McCallum and I, my co founder and I were involved in a project back in the early 90s. Actually, we were on the design team in the 80s and then lived in it in the early 90s for two years and 20 minutes, though, who's counting? Um, and. Just to remind us all what Biosphere 2 was, it, at the time, was sealed tighter than the International Space Station. It was the very first time that we, humanity, attempted to build the world's first human made biosphere. It was called Biosphere 2 because, you know, the idea being that...
Uh, planet Earth, our biosphere on the planet is Biosphere 1. Uh, and so we lived inside there, and all of our oxygen was coming from the plants around us. We knew moment to moment that our CO2 was going out to grow our food. You know, we could see the edges of our world with that glass and steel structure around us. And it was really interesting, right? So I went into the biosphere thinking that this was the closest thing that I'm ever get I went there because I thought it was about going to space.
And when I went in, I realized it was also about discovering a planetary biosphere that we all inhabit together. And it turns out that that is a very... Akin experience to that which astronauts have when they see Earth from space. And what it does is when the astronauts see Earth in space, right, they see that thin blue line of our atmosphere. They see the Earth against the blackness of space.
And they get this visceral understanding that we live together as a human family on planet Earth. So this experience actually creates a response that makes one actively, proactively, want to solve the grand challenges of today. So it is absolutely at the core of what we're doing at Space Perspective, wanting to take thousands of people up to have that experience, uh, and, you know, do something amazing with that experience there. You gave a talk.
It was a Ted biosphere. And I think to tie it back to that a little bit, one of the things you mentioned in that talk is when we breathe, we could be breathing carbon from a dinosaur or Julius Caesar or, or who knows, or our great great great great grandchildren. And in effect, right, I think what you're saying here is when you see the planet without the borders, You know, you're sharing, we've shared, we're sharing carbon from, from everything that's lived on earth that, you know, exudes carbon, right? But you, you're also now sharing this, this commonplace that we all have, and you start to think of it more as one or something that's shared by all of us, it seems like. Yeah, I know. I think, I think that's exactly right. And I think what becomes supremely apparent is really the only border that counts is the border of that thin blue line of our atmosphere against.
The vacuum of space that suddenly becomes supremely apparent that that black vacuum. is not hospitable to life, right? But here on planet Earth, it is our oasis. And that is what becomes so apparent. So, do you think, what if we could take the right group of people, political leaders from Earth, and, and bring them up? Into your spaceship, Neptune, as it's called.
Do you think that could be a way we could solve some of Earth's problems? Ah, so I love that question because yes, I do. And I think that, you know, for us at Space Perspective, we want to take people of all sorts to space, right? So we want to take artists... Scientists, leaders, everyone, because, you know, they're all going to go to space and have their own experience and, and come back.
And communicate it in ways that hasn't been communicated differently, you know, I, I think, you know, decisions around climate change would be so much easier if we all really viscerally at our core, understand that we are part of a biosphere and we are completely reliant on it as a Frankly, it is on us at this point, right? Well, oh, absolutely. It's, it's the collectivist, right? All of us. Well, let's imagine that you could put together the right set of people to take up there. So, I guess, two part question. Like, who would you bring up? To solve the world's problems, but more importantly, there's going to be that moment, right? And I bet you could probably look at people's faces and say, Oh, they're having it.
They're having the overview effect. And right. And then there's probably a, you change a little bit, I would imagine. And what would you say to them? Like, what question would you pose to them at that moment to get them talking about the right things? I think it's a super, super interesting question. I don't know that I have the answer for you, Ed.
You know, one of the things we talk a lot about with spaceship Neptune, right? It doesn't really require training. It's a very gentle experience. It's very accessible experience, right? I mean, if you can get on a commercial airline, you can get on, on spaceship Neptune, that's, that's what this space balloon affords us, but now that means we can take anyone. to space, but they need to be prepared for it. There you go. And, and I think you, you gave that example, right? When astronauts come back to Earth and they, they tend to want to, you know, work on these causes more.
Well, let's describe to our listeners, let's just describe the spaceship. Describe what, what's it going to be like? I get in and, and then what happens? Yeah. So imagine it's early morning, it's dark out.
You step out. Onto the deck of this beautiful marine spaceport and you get into this incredibly comfortable space lounge that's inside the capsule of spaceship Neptune, right? There's a bar there, there's a loo there, there's Wi Fi, there's these super comfy chairs, you get to sit down. You will be asked to strap in for the first 15 minutes.
The pilot will tell you you're about to lift off, and you will feel the spaceship being taken up to space by the space balloon incredibly gently. It's going to be very smooth. So you're rising up, and for about two hours, uh, you will, uh, be going up to space. Now imagine you're seeing the sun come up over the limb of the Earth. And I've seen video of sunrise of a sunrise from that altitude.
I mean, it's madness. It is astonishingly beautiful and it starts before sunrise. So you're going to, but first you'll of course see the incredible starscape without the sun. So you'll have no light pollution. It'll just be amazing. And then you will start to see the sun and you see kind of, if you're seeing a sunrise, you'll see sort of these crazy rainbows that come across the planet.
Uh, and then you'll see the sun against the deep, dark blackness of space. And when you talk to people who have seen this, they talk about the colors being like something they've never seen before. Like the black is the deepest black you've ever seen, which is... kind of crazy actually.
And so you'll see that you'll be up there for a couple of hours and then it'll take you another two hours to come back down. Uh, the, the capsule splashes gently in the water, two fast boats come over, wave to everybody inside, the ship comes up, picks, picks the capsule, puts it up, puts it on the deck of the ship and Within about 15 minutes or so of splash, you'll be on the deck of the ship and being a broader shore again and having a great celebration of everything you just experienced. And what's the size of the capsule? The size of the balloon? Yeah, so it seats eight customers, explorers, as we call our customers, eight explorers and a captain. Mind you, the captain does not have a whole lot to do. Uh, so the vehicle can fly itself. It can be flown for mission control on the ground.
And then there's another mission control on the ship. So really the captain is there just to make sure everybody is, you know, super comfortable and got everything they need and curating this experience. So it is 16 feet in diameter. Uh, and so it's roomy. You can get up and walk around and.
Go stand at the bar. You can cheers in the middle. No seatbelts required for the for liftoff And not during not during the majority of the flight exactly.
I mean, that's the beauty of this thing. It's so incredible smooth Yes, that's exactly right. And by the way, you're looking out the largest windows ever flown to space one of my parameters was that one of our board members is like Over, well over six feet tall and I promised him he was going to be able to stand in the window without ducking. I think we've made it. So, so the first thing that comes to mind when I hear this is what you, you, you, you see these images of the astronauts and they're going up into space and, and they're, they're in their spacesuits. They're in there.
They're, they're shaking and rattling and the rockets. This sounds like you're just floating up like you'd be in a hot air balloon, pretty much. Is that probably the feeling? This is absolutely the, yeah, you're right. This is exactly the opposite of how we normally think of as spaceflight. And that was, that's the, that's the unlock here. That's what's, you know, really making this so accessible, you know.
And then we're also adding on our own sort of reimagined way of experiencing it. experience based on top of that. So, so the capsule itself, you don't have high G's. You don't have, you don't need to be wearing a fancy space suit or, you know, do all the training or any of that. This is absolutely gentle.
You're in a pressurized capsule with your beverage of choice and your loved ones. And you know, you're heading to space. I mean, it is just completely different experience. And then the way we designed. The interior actually took a huge amount of work. You know, we originally thought, Oh, We're taking everybody to space to see the Arthrum space.
So we're going to sit everybody in front of their own window and stare out at the world. And then all of a sudden, when we set that up in a mock up, you know, I wanted to talk to people and I was looking over my shoulder. I'm like, uh oh, we just made this a completely solitary experience. So we flipped it around and now we've got this very social space lounge, as we call it, because we also want it to be incredibly inviting and relaxing for people. And so there's a space lounge.
For people to look out at us. So it's as much a shared, relaxed experience as it is understanding our place in the universe as we look out at our beautiful planet from that vantage point. I certainly can see right away for, let's just say, the average person that wants to experience Earth in a new way. Space travel and space station pretty much every time we've gone up into space has been tended towards being scientists that want to, you know, run experiments and you've created experiments that have gone up into the space station, all that.
How do you see this as a new opportunity for scientists? Oh, awesome. Yes. So we are. We absolutely are taking science payloads on every flight, actually.
So we already took science payloads on off. On our early test flights. Uh, so one of the huge advantages of what we're doing, uh, for science is repeat flights to an area that people have hardly ever gone and studied.
It's a very difficult place to get to. Technically, it's called the stratosphere and it is really important for understanding aspects of climate change. For example, upper atmospheric science.
I mean, there is additional science we can do also that is It's fairly traditionally done with, with these kinds of balloons, which is with heliophysics and astronomy and astrophysics, because you can fly these huge telescopes. But for us, what's really, really valuable for scientists is that they don't generally get to do multiple. flights. One or two, maybe. Maybe three if they're super lucky. What we're going to be able to offer is repeat flights because we're going to be flying so much and what's exciting we're actually already in discussions with a number of really Uh, really valuable organizations whose names you would recognize, um, to fly payloads, uh, as part of Spaceship Neptune that fly on every flight because it then gets what's called a transect.
We're doing a transect up through the atmosphere and back down. So you're constantly taking data about the atmosphere, uh, different. Parts of the atmosphere, different atmospheric species, different, you know, obviously temperature, humidity, and all of those kinds of things, but other gases as well that have not yet to date been studied at the degree that we are. And also in the locations, remember, we're going to be out over the ocean, which is difficult to get to as well, all around the world eventually.
So we're super excited about what we can do. And let's also talk about kids. So I'm super excited that we actually get to take kids experiments. So on our first flight, uh, it was, it was precious. We ran a competition and we had, uh, kids compete to fly their science payloads.
And the two winners happened to be both girls. And watching the videos of them hearing that they had won... It was priceless. I mean, there was screaming, they were so excited about it. So we also get to take kids along on this journey as well, which is so important. And we also flew, uh, flew kids art, you know, we're, we're big proponents of steam, not just, just them.
There's other companies, Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic, all taking slightly different approaches in terms of how high they go. Blue Origin. Somewhat conventional, you're strapped to a rocket ship, it lasts a few minutes. You're on the other end of the spectrum, six hour flight, right, relax.
Virgin Galactic, I think somewhere in between, I don't know, it's a little bit less time, but it's not the full rocket. feeling. Um, and then there's cost too.
And I think, although not everyone has announced their prices, you have, I think it's 125 K. Could you maybe talk a little bit about how you compare to these other approaches? Pluses, minuses, maybe they compliment each other. What are your thoughts on on these different approaches people are taking to open up space travel to the masses? So, I think maybe the first thing to say is that demand for this is huge. So, what is limiting the dem what is actually limiting the number of people that are going to spaces is by no means demand. It is how many operators there are.
So, because there's so few operators... This is going to be supply side limited for many years to come, which is actually a great place for us as a business to be in. Uh, so the way we think about it is that, you know, rising tide floats all boats. We are not in competition. with Blue Origin and Virgin, and certainly not Axiom or SpaceX, right? It's very different experiences.
In many ways, we think of ourselves as a gateway for them. So, uh, for example, uh, think about people going up on a rocket flight and, you know, you've literally got five or six Gs as you're, as you're launching or as you're, uh, uh, descending. What that feels like, apparently, It's an elephant sitting on your chest.
Not that I've ever had an elephant sitting on my chest, but I think it's a good thing to avoid, I heard. I, I wanna go back to the cost $125,000. And so the first thing I did is I go wonder what is, what is the most expensive airline ticket you could buy? And what I found was that for $30,000 on, um, Uh, I think it's, uh, uh, an airline, uh, from the, from the Middle East. You can have your own like mini apartment with a shower. I, I suppose it's on a 747 or very large wide body aircraft. It's 30, 000.
So you're getting close, right? I mean, it's a factor of four. It's not a factor of 10 or 100. And, you know, compared to the most expensive airline, airline ticket that's out there.
What do you think has to happen? To get that 125 down to, you know, it's like a ticket from, um, you know, London to L. A. or something like a business class seat or, you know, get it down to 10k or 5k or... Yeah, yeah, no, no, I think you're raising all kinds of interesting points.
So first of all, when we set the ticket price, we actually looked a lot at... Uh, you know, what, what's happening in the luxury travel industry, right? So, people go on these beautiful safaris, go to the Antarctic, go on a plane flight, you know, around the world. That's all in the area of 100, 000 to 200, 000. So, we're right in there with what you might call the luxury travel industry.
Uh, and so, you know, the way we think about it is, you know, how exciting it would be for people to be sort of sitting around the dining room table thinking about, well, are we going to go to on another safari? Are we going to go go see the northern lights? Kind of done that? Or are we going to go to space? So we've, in many ways, sort of created uh, A new destination for people to think about going to. So that's incredibly exciting. And the demand is so huge, Ed, that it is likely that the ticket prices are going to go up before they're going to go down. However, having said that we are obviously, of course, thinking about what it would take over the long run. to bring prices down.
Uh, and, you know, I think eventually they will come down. You know, we're thinking about tiered products. I don't know that the higher end one will go away.
Uh, but, you know, it's about scale. It's about getting a lot of people flying. When you're only flying a handful of people a year, as is really currently happening, it's going to be very difficult to get the prices down. But once we, once you've got thousands of people flying to space, That's when you're going to start seeing the prices really rocket down. I mean, they've already come down a lot, uh, over the last years. If you think about just the price of rocket launches, I'm not talking necessarily space travel per se, but rocket launches.
Um, and then the same, the same thing will happen just with efficiency of scale as we start flying more and more people to space. But you are going into space. So the hydrogen, you're safe with the hydrogen. It's like you said, it's a technology that's become quite mature. It's not a lot of issues with it, but things in the capsule itself, you said there's a pilot for the most part, the pilot's going to be able to enjoy himself. Hopefully he's not drinking too much champagne or whatever.
While there, but things can go wrong. Can you talk a little bit about. I would imagine you have a ground control of some kind.
What are they doing? There's some remote, uh, monitoring control going on and what happens if something goes, does go wrong? How? What safety? Yeah. So there's a line in there, right? So safety obviously is absolutely critical. Uh, so this is a really safe way of going to space. So let's, let's kind of break that down. So the balloon is the primary flight system. That's, that's what's carrying the capsule to space.
So the balloon itself is the kind of balloon that NASA has flown over a thousand times, ESA, our team has flown it many times. It's a very well understood technology, uh, then between the balloon and the capsule, uh, as a set of parachutes, four parachute systems, and they're only used in an off nominal scenario because the capsule goes up under the balloon and back down under the balloon. Which also means it's a very seamless experience because you don't ever transfer from one kind of flight system to another. That also means you get rid of all of that complexity. So you're just going up and down. So it's, it's pretty straightforward, right? It's, but the, the parachutes are there just in case.
Uh, so there's four of them. And you don't need all of them to work. So you've even got redundancy within the parachutes and then the capsule itself. I mean, that's the kind of thing I've been working on. Most of my career is designing is working on those kinds of systems and our team. And there's lots of redundancies within the capsule as well.
I mean, as we talked about a really simple example is just the operations. Right. That, that there's, it can be operated from, from the ground. It can be operated, uh, automatically, and then it can also be operated by the captain. So there's just redundancies built into everything.
You mentioned, uh, in your career. Um, you, you've built these environments and space and suits for, for people. And I was reading about the Red Bull space jump that Alan, uh, uses it. And one of the things I found fascinating about that is, uh, you were involved in the design of that suit, uh, I, I believe, is that correct? Or, or, and yeah, our team was.
So it was part of, uh, a former company that Tabor and I co founded called Paragon Space Development Corporation. That's now run by our third co founder. And that actually technically that company is what did.
The Stratix jump that you're referring to where we broke, we broke the Red Bull Stratos jump and, uh, Paragon built the, built the spacesuit. It was actually the first spacesuit, believe it or not, it was the first new spacesuit built, tested and flown in America in 40 years when we flew it. Insane. And what year was that? Uh, we broke the record in 2014, 2014.
And so, so for people that may not be familiar, uh, 136, 000 feet up and how many miles is that? Yeah, so people probably wouldn't be familiar. So everyone would remember the Felix Baumgartner jump, right? Where he, uh, cause that was heavily promoted. And in fact, they kind of broke the internet. With it at the time, uh, their head of content for that is now our head of content as well.
So he's the one who brought you those incredible iconic images of Felix standing on the threshold, looking out dramatically over the planet. And then he just sort of throws himself out. I mean, it's sort of mad to watch. I was one of the 10 million people watching real time. Uh, and so that was done in 2012. Uh, and he went to 128, 000 feet.
He was actually taken up in a capsule and he had to step out of the capsule. Uh, it turns out it's much simpler and counterintuitively safer for this particular application to take, uh, in this instance, Allen Eustace, who was at the time a Google executive up in a spacesuit, literally just hanging under the balloon, so he was connected to the balloon. We took him up. For just over two hours. It took him to get up to 136, 000 feet. You're right.
Then we intentionally dropped him He free fell for almost five minutes He broke the speed of sound and then he opened his parachute and came in for for a safe landing Uh, I mean, it was incredibly exciting, and the reason that you wouldn't have heard about it is because we didn't want it, Google didn't want it, Allen didn't want any press, really, to speak of, so we had just a, just a smidgen, we had a New York Times reporter at the, at the final, uh, record jump, just, you know, because if it's not in the press at all, it didn't happen. For the, for the last part of our, of our talk today, I want to talk a little bit about the future. of space travel and pick up right here with, with biosphere. Uh, one thing we haven't talked about with, at least with respect to biosphere.
I think it was two years or a long period of time. What about the mental aspect of being with the same 7, 8 people, whatever the number was, for all that time? I mean, it could be good, it could be bad, but too bad, you're stuck. Ed, you gotta read my book about it. We all went completely mad.
My book's called The Human Experiment for a reason. Oh, well, does that not bode well for future space travel, you think? So I think as, as humans, we are generally pretty resilient, so, uh, it does take resilience, uh, for sure. That's one of the, the, the key attributes for people going on something like this.
Um, yeah, I mean, it, it, it was, it was the most incredible thing to be involved with. It was the hardest thing I've ever done. Right. It was, you know, eight of us sealed inside.
Talk about cabin fever. I mean, it's cabin fever, you know, just like blown out of proportion. Turns out that there is a constellation of symptoms that tend to occur with people in isolated, confined environments, as it's called. So it happens to people in the Antarctic, if they're a long time on a submarine. It has different aspects. of it, you know, one of them is you tend to break into warring factions, which is what we did.
We had eight people in there and we, we broke into, uh, it turns out that eight is the worst number. Speaking of getting to space and biospheres, when do you think we'll have that first biosphere on Mars? Moon is super interesting. You know, there's been so many debates over the years. Oh, are we going to do moon? Are we going to do Mars first? Look, I think. I think moon is super interesting because it's close because I, I want us all to be going right.
I don't want it just to be for the few scientists for the few astronauts that eventually we're going to have hotels. We're going to people living on the moon. Uh, and that's super exciting.
And that is going to happen before. We have people really living long term on Mars, simply because it's so far away and difficult to get to. Uh, and I think that's super exciting. Not because I want us to be leaving planet Earth, but because I think these, these, uh, these explorations, these, these outposts, they bring us things that otherwise could not happen here on Earth, right? I mean, there's the reason why the great navigators explored our world. Our planet that seemed so huge initially.
Now our solar system seems so huge. Now imagine if we're going out and all of those people will be looking back at us. And having that space perspective and an increasing amount, the further you get away, right, you get that little tiny experience of the pale blue dot that Carl Sagan spoke about when he took the, that image of Earth from the edge of our solar system in the 90s. I mean, wow. That, that was an iconic image. So, you know, I, I, I think it, it's, uh, it's very exciting and will definitely happen.
Can I tell you when? Probably not. Well, an adventure in more than one way. I guess it gives us something for Jane. Thank you.
Thank you so much for really, really interesting discussion and opening up. Our eyes on future car podcasts to the future of mobility in a new dimension. Thank you so much. You bet. It was super fun.