If you’re reading this, we’re betting at one time in your life, you wanted to be an astronaut. Because everyone wants to be a freakin’ astronaut. Unfortunately for most of us, it’s extremely unlikely. Only 12 of 18,300 applicants were selected as astronaut candidates in 2017, which by no means guarantees a trip to space.
With so few opportunities, it’s a good thing no less than three eccentric billionaires (Richard Branson, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos) are pushing commercial space exploration forward. Soon the world will need more astronauts. Maybe a lot more. Anticipating this, the Finnish startup Space Nation today released a free astronaut trainer app to teach anyone basic astronaut skills. Appropriately, it’s the the anniversary of Yuri Gagarin becoming the first person in outer space (1961) and first space shuttle launch (1981).
Developed in conjunction with NASA trainers via a Space Act agreement, the Space Nation Navigator, which you can download at spacenationnavigator.com/, will attempt to endow you with the right stuff through daily minigames, quizzes, fitness challenges, and narrative adventures. These missions cost coins, and you start with 800. They also start with factoids from space, such as plants' roots growing toward a source of gravity and the the plant away from it.
Initially a soft launch, the app will gain more features as the year progresses. Hardcore users will also become eligible for prizes and more astronaut experiences. By the way, using the app will earn one candidate a trip to space through the Space Nation Astronaut Program. The company says it will select one candidate a year. The games and quizzes are not easy, and failing a mission means you have to pay more coins or watch an ad. Whoever does make it to space will be two things: really smart and have an amazing tolerance for online ads. (I wanted to throw my phone against a wall after watching two.)
“Space Nation Navigator and the Space Nation Astronaut Program are the first training tools for civilian pioneers of future space travel," says Space Nation’s co-founder and CCO Mazdak Nassir. “Low Earth orbit is open for business, companies are preparing to mine asteroids and build hotels. More and more people will visit space. This next step in the new space race will require a host of skills, skills that Space Nation Navigator will provide to anyone in the world.”
Branson started Virgin Galactic in 2004 and often announces how close he is to creating space tourism (and finally allowing us to find out if we owe flat earthers a huge apology), but as of this past January, the target date he set, they are still doing test flights.
SpaceX CEO Musk optimistically targets a human mission to Mars in 2024, though how the anticipated cargo mission two years earlier will dictate that. Currently, every successful Falcon rocket launch represents one step closer to this becoming a reality.
Meanwhile, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos spends $1 billion a year trying to lower the cost of space travel. “I’m in the process of converting my Amazon lottery winnings into a much lower price of admission so we can go explore the solar system,” Bezos said in March.
Space Nations CEO and co-founder, Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola is as optimistic about how fast the world will catch up once one of these men succeeds; and success is kind of what they’re known for.
"If we could go from sending the first man to space to putting a man on the Moon in just eight years," Vähä-Jaakkola says, "imagine where we can be in eight years from the first commercial human space flight with the current speed of technological progress. With 3D printing we can even print entire houses, and easily build things on remote planets. Advancements in urban farming and hydroponics enable growing on soilless planets. Reusable space crafts and docking stations drive down the price of a ticket to space. And harnessing the resources of the Moon, even more."
A lot of these sound like they’ll need manufacturing experts and engineers, and if there’s ever a giant asteroid to blow up, you better believe we’ll need a zany crew of deep sea oil drillers. Space might need you someday, so why not start training right now? It’s a heck of a lot more worthwhile than Candy Crush or Facebook.
“Space Nation Navigator’s release puts app users right at the center of the democratization of space,” Vähä-Jaakkola says. “As crazy as it sounds, downloading the app could really be your first step on a journey to visit space.”
And who knows? Maybe you’ll be that one lucky person who Space Nation takes into space. Just make sure the fine print says they’ll bring you back.