The biospherian and Women 2.0 conference keynote speaker talks about the amazing, near-term future of human spaceflight.
By Jessica Stillman (Editor, Women 2.0)
What you see often depends on where you stand, and Jane Poynter, our fabulous final conference keynote speaker, has had some pretty incredibly perspectives from which to peek at the future.
In the ‘90s she lived inside an entirely self-contained biosphere for two years, an experience which led on to her current work at Paragon Space Development, the company she co-founded that is hard at work trying to figure out how to keep humans alive on Mars. So what have these incredible experiences taught her about the near-term trajectory of tech innovation? We called her up to ask her for her 2020 Vision, and also managed to a glean a few tantalizing glimpses of what else she’s planning on speaking about at the event.
Your work in the biosphere is very well known, but what are some of the coolest things you’re working on these days?
There are two Mars missions that we’re working on, both commercially funded at this point: there’s Mars One and Inspiration Mars. Then the other thing is we’ve just announced our new venture, Worldview Enterprises, which is a suborbital flight company where we take people, researchers, payloads up to space, but instead of using a rocket, we use an enormous helium balloon. You get a very gentle ride and you can be aloft for hours or even days for research. We just launched last Tuesday.
What’s the timeline on that?
In spaceflight terms it’s short. We are anticipating on a relatively aggressive schedule to have people going up around the end of 2016.
What are some tech trends you predict will have a big impact on how we live our lives by 2020?
All my adult life I have worked in two areas: one is sustainability and one is commercial spaceflight. I think you’re going to see massive changes in both.
So in commercial spaceflight, you are finally going to see routine launches to space – maybe not orbital space yet but at least suborbital space – so that people can see the earth from space, but also for research, maybe even to have people routinely living up there beyond what we’re doing on the International Space Station. Spaceflight is going to become routine for many, many more people then it has been in the past, and that is incredibly important because we’re seeing this explosion of technology development.
Will these space flights be exclusively commercial or in combination with government initiatives?
I think a combination of both. Government is meant to be the pointy end of the stick on these really audacious technology development programs like human spaceflight, so the government will continue developing technologies for deep space, but I think you’re going to see the lower earth orbit populated largely by commercial efforts.
How about sustainability – what shifts do you foresee in that area by the end of the decade?
For good or ill I think you’re going to start to see some really large-scale efforts at either restoration or changing landscapes, or even our atmosphere. We’re having to really manage ourselves within the confines of our global biosphere now, and in the next decade we’re going to see probably some gross missteps in that area, but also some huge advances.
Does the experience of living in a biosphere make you optimistic or pessimistic about our ability to manage the global biosphere?
Oh, completely optimistic. The biosphere was a huge success. We demonstrated it’s possible to take this global biosphere we all live in and have it persist for a long period of time. We had a couple of fairly major problems, but they were all things we could fix. We already know how rapidly ecosystems tend to recover from disturbances once they’re let alone or even maybe helped a bit to restore, so I have huge optimism. We’re an incredibly innovative and creative species.
Is there anything else you’d like to highlight ahead of your talk?
I’m going to weave talking about what it is to be a space entrepreneur into talking about ‘work, life & play’ through the context of really connecting to one’s sense of higher purpose and how that can drive a sense of satisfaction in what you do. If you have a foundation of purpose, the rest is helped to fall into place.
For you personally, do those areas of work, life and play meld together?
Yes, I see no distinction. Which isn’t to say I don’t play and I don’t have friends that I hang out with beyond the workplace, but I don’t draw this incredibly hard line like people who say, ‘do you have a balanced lifestyle?’
So play fuels work and work fuels play?
Jessica Stillman (@entrylevelrebel) is an editor at Women 2.0 and a freelance writer with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She writes a daily column for Inc.com, contributes regularly to Forbes and has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM and Brazen Careerist, among others.
Photo credit: TEDx Phoenix via Flickr.