Astropreneurs had a chance to interview Ms. Rachel Lyons, Executive Director of Space for Humanity. She is the former Vice-Chair of the Board of Directors of SEDS USA, and a key advocate in the advancement of space technology and space exploration. Space for Humanity is a non-profit organization that is aiming to send 10,000 citizens, from all over the world to outer space. It also aims at empowering young individuals to have an impact in the space industry. In this interview, Ms. Lyons tells us about the journey of Space for Humanity, and shares her views on Sustainable Development, and opportunities for budding astropreneurs.

Astropreneurs: What is the mission and the inspiration behind Space for Humanity?

Rachel Lyons: Our mission is to sponsor non-astronauts to fly to space. The inspiration behind it is the global perspective from looking at the Earth from space. This perspective is essential in today’s world as all of the grand challenges we are facing are global – and this perspective will allow people to address them with newfound effectiveness.

Astropreneurs: What is the Overview Effect? What are the societal impacts of human spaceflight?

Rachel Lyons: The Overview Effect is the philosophy behind our project. There is an anecdote that I share with people that was originally shared with me from David Beavor of the Overview Institute. That is when we live on the Earth, we intellectually understand that we live on a planet. However, we experience it as a flat plane. When astronauts go to space and experience the planet as a whole – they experience its beauty, fragility, and the interconnectedness of everything on it. They experience it as a finite planet floating in a seemingly infinite universe. This experience creates a cognitive shift that is called the Overview Effect. Time and time again, astronauts have experienced this shift and they return to Earth with a new understanding of everything happening on our planet, from the environment, politics, and humanitarian issues. That kind of perspective completely changes the way a person relates to other people. That is the perspective that we are working to share with the world.
There are studies done by the Psychology Department of the University of Pennsylvania and other research institutes on the Overview Effect and its reactions on the individuals. There are many findings, and the leading emotion that goes with the Overview Effect is awe.

Astropreneurs: How does Space for Humanity plan to make space accessible to everyone?

Rachel Lyons: There is one slogan by Blue Origin that describes us well: “step by step ferociously”. We cannot make space accessible to everyone or send everyone to space immediately. We are trying to help people from all over the world, having a crew of people from different backgrounds, different origins, and interests who will have the transformative experience together. Through representatives from different communities, we can make it accessible to communities from all over the world. We are working towards having our first flight in 2021.

Astropreneurs: What are the major challenges in the field of space tourism? What are your views on sustainable development?

Rachel Lyons: As far as the challenges are concerned, making it happen and making it a reality is a big challenge in itself. It is a technological challenge. Secondly, making it accessible. Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin charge a considerable amount of money for a ticket. Hopefully, the price will come down to a point where people can afford it in future years.

My views on sustainable development and the United Nation’s sustainable development goals (SDGs) include connecting the perspective of space with the issues that we face today. Another thing I would like to share: seeing the Earth from the moon for the first time in 1968, as a blue marble, was a major factor in sparking the modern environmental movement. This perspective is essential in having people see how finite and special this existence is. Space is an essential part of sustainable development.

Astropreneurs: Could you tell us about your impact leadership program?

Rachel Lyons: Impact leadership program is going to take place 6-8 months before the flight. It is physical and psychological training for the spaceflight. We are training people to be ready to experience spaceflight. It is also a leadership training program because from various perspectives, space is essential for the next generation. I had a conversation with astronaut Scott Parazynski a few weeks ago. He shared his experience and told me that one of the projects he was pursuing after his return was creating an organization that would send political leaders in space. It is about creating the next generation of leaders, and that forms the global perspective.  People who will experience the spaceflight will share it with others and work for sustainable development goals. The impact leadership program will provide them with the resources to complete their projects.

Astropreneurs: What are the opportunities available to the future astropreneurs in the age of New Space?

Rachel Lyons: That is a good question. It reminds me of a conversation with one of Space for Humanity’s advisor Mr. Max Vozoff. He was in SpaceX in the early 2000s. When he left SpaceX, there were dozens of space-based startups, and now the numbers are in the hundreds. So in short, there are a lot of opportunities—the most there has ever been. You can begin by volunteering—there are Students for the Exploration and Development of Space, World Space Week, Yuri’s Night, Space Generation Advisory Council, and also Space for Humanity. If you’re inspired by our mission, reach out. There are many space organizations to get involved with. You have to get out there, network and meet people. If anything sparks your interest, always go out there and talk to people. Going out of my way to meet people that were doing things I found inspiring is the way where I got to where I am. Asking is the key. There is no reason to be afraid. The worst thing that can happen is that you learn something new.

Posted by Anayo Bhattacharya