This past weekend I had the opportunity to attend Virgin Galactic’s Space for the Curious event in Wyoming, the first time the Future Astronaut community has had the opportunity to come together in significant numbers since the pandemic restrictions eased.
It was great to reconnect with old friends and make new ones, and to get a first hand update outside of the quarterly investor briefings that have driven information flow post the company’s listing on the US Stock Exchange in 2019. Don’t get me wrong, nothing was disclosed over the weekend that hadn’t already been outlined in the quarterly results calls, but there’s a difference in the way the same information is presented when the customer is the target audience rather than investors.
For me and the majority of the Future Astronaut’s I’ve had the pleasure of meeting over the years it’s always been about more than the flight – ‘the journey to the journey’ phrase is one that’s been used many times over the years. Historically the activities that have formed part of that journey have served a dual purpose of delivering on the need to keep the community engaged while we wait for the flight program to progress, but also furthering the curiosity around not only our own journey to space but what transformational impact that experience may deliver.
That second element is now clearly becoming much more tightly defined, its not just about the fun and the great experiences you have along the way with a truly fascinating group of people from all over the world, its about the preparation needed to ensure maximum benefit not only for the flight experience itself but for what we do with that experience post our return.
The sessions held across the weekend focused both on how to prepare for the physical elements but far more on how to mentally prepare yourself – if you want the experience to transform you, how do you prepare and create the environment for that transformation to be achieved.
The company does part of it – ensuring you have all the information, training and materials you need – and hearing about the new astronaut training facility in New Mexico and how its purposeful design will enhance the experience at every step is mind-blowingly exciting – but like everything in life, what you achieve is a direct correlation of the work and preparation you put in.
A physical mobility workshop gave us the self assessment tools we needed to identify key areas of importance, and how we could work on those well in advance of our flight. While basic fitness is a given, maybe less obvious was the importance of good shoulder mobility to ensure you’re able to swiftly and safely secure your harness when it’s time to get back in your seat for re-entry to the atmosphere.
A session with brain coach Jim Kwik provided reams of notes on not only how we can prepare our brains to maximise the memories created during our flight but how actively exercising our brains can enrich everyday life. I can’t wait to dive deep into his book Limitless and expand on the information he provided.
It’s always such a highlight to hear from those who’ve experienced space travel themselves, and we were so lucky to have a number of astronauts with us over the weekend.
Commander Chris Hadfield shared his experiences across multiple visits to the International Space Station, and I was more than a little devastated to find my early jet lag driven departure from dinner on the Friday night saw me miss him pulling out his guitar for an impromptu concert.
Anousheh Ansari spoke of her passion for space travel that not only resulted in her own time in space as the first private female cosmonaut, but also led to creating and funding X Prize which not only delivered SpaceShip One, the prototype for what became Virgin Galactic but has also driven millions of dollars of private investment into space businesses since its inception in 2002.
The crew of Unity 22 gave us their tips for not only preparing for our flights but very practical suggestions for what to do during the flight itself. I’m sure we’ll all remember Colin’s advice to make sure that while we hold our heads still during the rocket launch component of the flight we make sure that we’re doing so in a way that allows a view out of the pilots windscreen, not locked in a position that means you only see the back of the seat in front of you!
Ron Garan spoke passionately on the inflection point that the original earth rise image taken by astronaut William Anders created in 1968, when for the first time we could view the earth in it’s totality rather than as a map based image divided by lines and boundaries.
The common theme from all those who have already had that experience that all of us who have signed up to be part of the Virgin Galactic program crave was clear. Seeing the earth from space, with no divisions or lines, no colors defining nation states, just one single deeply connected entity is unavoidably transformational.
As commercial space travel opens the door for a much wider set of individuals to experience the transformative power of seeing the world as that singular connected entity, adding the poets, the artists, the wordsmiths, the entrepreneurs, the researchers etc etc etc to the professional astronauts who have already expanded our horizons can only enhance the learnings and knowledge that space exploration creates as a ripple effect across the wider global community.
It was also clear that the extent of the transformation you personally achieve from the experience is dependent on the work you do to prepare, and my overwhelming take away from the weekend was not one I had expected. Rather than being desperate for my space experience to happen as soon as possible, I came away grateful that it is still likely a couple of years in the making as it gives me plenty of time to do the preparatory work required to achieve my maximum possible impact.