Think you've got what it takes to be an astronaut on the International Space Station? A Finnish startup will soon invite you to prove it.
Cohu Experience, a tech firm based in Helsinki, is launching an international competition this fall to send one lucky citizen of planet Earth into space. The contest, which will test physical, intellectual and social skills, will initially take place through a smartphone app called Space Nation. The top 130 competitors will be invited to attend a two-week bootcamp in either the United States, Europe or another yet-to-be-determined location. From there, 12 finalists will go head-to-head to win the grand prize of a trip into space.
“We want it to be inclusive so anyone in the world can be a part. We want to find those 'Slumdog' astronauts,” founder Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola told SpaceNews, referring to the Oscar-winning film "Slumdog Millionaire" about a teen from the slums of Mumbai who surprises everyone in a popular game show.
There's money behind the vision
While anything with the words "win a trip to space" warrants a skeptical eye, Space Nation is already building partnerships and the financial backing to make it a reality. A crowdfunding effort that kicked off last week has already netted the company more than €2.8 million (about $2.97 million U.S.) in donations, soaring past the original €1.5 million goal. If certain targets are reached, the Finnish Innovation Fund will kick in another 3 million euros. As for sponsors, Cohu Experience has found partners in Axiom Space, a U.S. company aiming to build a private module to attach to the International Space Station, education company Edge of Space, Inc., and Finnish education company Fun Academy.
"We are building an international community centered around commercial space travel and exploration," Vähä-Jaakkola said in a press release. "Using private funding and making the investment opportunity available to everyone nationally and internationally comes as a no-brainer to us."
Like other space stunts that have come and gone over the past couple years, winners who progress from the app to the bootcamp competition and beyond will be filmed as part of a reality TV series. Each of the finalists will also receive a salary to offset any lost wages from participating in the contest.
“We don’t always like the comparison with reality TV, because you think of scripted TV. You think of backroom rivals or stabbing people in the back," Vähä-Jaakkola told Geektime. "This is positive and not superficial.”
But will the winner really go to space?
Less clear is when a winner might actually get a shot at fulfilling the grand prize of rocketing into space. Space Nation says in a FAQ on its site that the first grand prize will be a suborbital space flight with the winner "continuing in the second season to compete for a longer visit to the ISS." While commercial suborbital spaceflights like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are in development, not one firm has set a clear launch date to begin shuttling tourists into space.
As for getting someone aboard the ISS, Axiom plans on shuttling people to the ISS in mid-2019, with an ultimate goal of attaching the world's first commercial module to the space station in late 2020. Once in place, Space Nation astronauts would do more than just gaze at the world below in awe.
“There are some things like spacewalks which demands more physical fitness, but otherwise you do scientific research, a lot of which is following procedures,” Vähä-Jaakkola added. “You won’t need such a thorough background in biology to do biology experiments. In many cases when you do the experiments, you do the procedures."
Whether or not this latest experiment in the democratization of space succeeds, it's clear that there's plenty of interest in the idea. After launching the crowdfunding effort was launched, it took only 43 minutes for Space Nation to soar past the 1 million euro mark.
Look for Space Nation to launch across smartphone platforms this fall. You can watch a promotional video for the competition below.