BLACKSHIP ONE PRESENTS…
A Venture To Outer Space Is a Venture To Inner Space
I would say that growth obstacles are ultimately always internal. Transforming our out of this world ambitions to create a world defining impact into actionable steps for a company, which needs to be a movement and a community at the same time, is highly demanding for the people involved. Success is always an inside job.
Space Entrepreneurs: Success is Always an Inside Job
Today, Blackship One, was fortunate enough to be able to talk with Kalle Vaha-Jaakkola, the co-founder of Space Nation, about his journey as an earth based space entrepreneur. Kalle has designed astronaut expeditions in harsh environments right here on earth. In today’s interview we’ll get a chance to chat with Kalle about his journey with Space Nation.
Let’s jump in!
Hi and thank you for taking the time to chat with us today about Space Nation. Can you help us kick off the interview by telling us a little bit more about how Space Nation got started? Where did the original idea come from and how has the company transformed into what it is today?
This is a trickier question than you might expect. The journey has been literally an adventure around the world with ups and downs and thousands of people being part of it in some way. We founded Space Nation in 2013 with my friend and co-founder Mazdak Nassir in Finland. The origins come from my love of space since a kid on a Finnish farm and Mazdak’s dreams of unity as an Iranian refugee. Mazdak told me about an idea of creating a global competition to become an astronaut on the International Space Station. That resonated with me right away, we quit our jobs and started to figure out how we do it. We didn’t have any space contacts at the time but didn’t let anything hold us back. Years of travel and adventure followed. We partnered with NASA, we were the first space travel company to become a member of UNWTO (United Nations World Tourism Organization) and we had office space on the International Space Station among others.
We nearly pulled it off. We had almost 50 people full-time working and launched an astronaut training app, Space Nation Navigator that had tens of thousands of users in 2018, but then the music stopped. We reached too far, the timing was off and we took some hard lessons.
That act of Space Nation ended, for now. We were fortunate to restructure the company into the US in summer of 2019. The ideals of Space Nation, expanding people’s minds and uniting the world through humanity’s expansion into space, was a mission worth fighting for.
We re-launched our astronaut expeditions on Earth in Iceland, in the training grounds of Neil Armstrong and other Apollo astronauts. Then the pandemic hit in early 2020 which was a blessing in disguise for us. We had to postpone the field missions and expeditions until 2021 but it forced us to innovate and expedite our future online plans.
We had a successful online pilot and are launching a virtual Space Nation Spaceport in September 2021 where you can join a community of space pioneers and take virtual space missions to Earth’s orbit, the Moon, Mars and beyond with astronauts and other space experts as your guides and mentors.
As a company, what have been some of your biggest growth obstacles and what have you done (or are you doing) to overcome those obstacles?
I would say that growth obstacles are ultimately always internal. Transforming our out of this world ambitions to create a world defining impact into actionable steps for a company, which needs to be a movement and a community at the same time, is highly demanding for the people involved. The bottleneck is to find the right people on the bus to create the needed rate of innovation. Success is always an inside job.
There isn’t any magic wand for this. It’s a slow, deliberate and consistent work on all fronts that create momentum, results and ultimately attracts new talent. A culture of inclusiveness and openness helps, but ultimately you need that megaphone to broadcast yourself and make people aware of you. You can’t force it too much. It needs to be a natural evolution.
One of the main objectives of your program is to help develop Adaptation Quotient (AQ) within the people who enroll in your expeditions. Can you tell us more about what AQ is and how your astronaut training expeditions can help people improve their AQ? Why is space training particularly well suited to helping people improve their AQ?
Well, looking at the ever faster changes in technology, automation and work environments generally, add there the current pandemic and political turmoils, and I think we all can agree that ability to adapt is pretty important. Astronauts are extremely well equipped to teach about adaptability. Things like calmly facing the unexpected, coping with constant uncertainty, isolation and getting used to strange environments are just another day for them. Expeditions and expeditionary skills are at its core about those things. In addition to resilience and perseverance, adaptability is about creative solutions, facing the brutal facts with an optimistic mindset and with confidence, without forgetting fun and humor. We believe that people going to space and living in space are the masters in adaptability.
I’m assuming that many people who take your program do so because they want to improve a certain skill (or skills) in their personal or professional lives. What are the three most common skills that people want to improve by taking your program? Why do you think your program is attractive to them for advances in those skills in particular?
People crave otherworldly and memorable new experiences, but you are right that skills are something tangible, a souvenir that sticks with you always. The three skills that people want to most improve would be working with a diverse group of people, coping with highly stressful situations and handling unexpected situations. We think that the general way people perceive astronauts as masters in these fields make the program attractive for them. Though there’s a difference between what people want beforehand and what they value the most afterwards. “A life-changing experience” packs a lot but that’s how it’s been called by participants.
Survival skills are a bit of a lost art. Do you believe survival skills will be a skill we need to re-learn as modern humans? Can you tell us more about some of your survival skill activities?
Survival skills can be a fun vehicle to train adaptability, ingenuity, resilience and ultimately get a rush of joy when overcoming yourself and spike your confidence. So in that sense those are relevant skills for modern humans to learn. There’s activities from building snow shelters to foraging food. It’s about fulfilling the basic needs to stay alive before the rescuers find you. When you learn these skills in the wilderness on some of our expeditions, they connect you with nature. That’s what ultimately is at the core of space exploration.
Our venture to outer space is a journey to our inner space.
On a similar note, can you tell us more about your training in closed systems. This is another skill you help people develop. What do your closed system training modules look like?
I’m not sure which this refers to but if you mean closed environments, yes. Most of our training aims to be not heavily technical but we make comparisons with spacecrafts and how we live on Spaceship Earth, and that we need to take care of it. Closed systems come through training with our astronaut suits, functioning in closed spaces and we are rolling after the pandemic simulated space habitat experiences too.
In your experience, out of all the skills you teach, where are we as humans weakest? Why do you believe this is?
Coping with uncertainty. Humans are by nature resilient but on the backdrop of the faster and faster changing world the need for this is overemphasized.
I believe that our digital lives separate us from ourselves and nature, and we become more hyper sensitive to uncertainty, having less patience to cope with it. We are less grounded to ourselves and to the surroundings, and we overreact, amplify our internal fears for change.
That’s what it ultimately is about: fear management. Trends like rising stoicism are responses for this development.
How do you go about choosing the location of your expeditions? What environmental conditions need to be present for you to consider it as a location?
It’s a mixture of suitable otherworldliness, finding right partners, having the needed local infrastructure and how the location fits to our storylines and narratives.
How important is having a hostile environment to your expedition? How much does having a hostile environment play into having a successful expedition?
We have expeditions from hostile environments like glaciers and deserts to non-hostile wilderness or ocean fronts. Hostile environments fit better for survival and crisis narratives, and stretching people. We often say that life begins at the end of your comfort zone.
Thank you greatly for chatting our blog readers today Kalle. We really appreciate it. To our readers, if you’d like to learn more about Space Nation you can learn more over on their website here.
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