Many people dream of exploring space, and John Spencer, space architect and Exchange consultant, is working to make that dream a reality.
Tell us about your background. You are an architect, so what sparked your interest in science? How did you end up becoming a space architect/designer?
I was 13 when Apollo 11 landed on the Moon. That was the year before the great space movie 2001: A Space Odyssey blew people’s minds with its fantastic spaceship and Moon base designs. I loved space exploration and design/architecture so in 1978 while in architecture school I realized I could combine space exploration with architectural design and be a space architect. So I created my own career and never looked back.
As the founder and president of the Space Tourism Society (STS) and author with Karen L. Rugg of the book Space Tourism: Do You Want to Go? you are probably the world’s leading advocate of space tourism. What drives your passion?
I want to go to space so I figured if I started the space tourism industry I would. I want that life-changing experience our astronauts, cosmonauts, and now real space tourists have had. I believe that the more people who go to space and have that unique life experience the better for everyone.
It has been 10 years since Dennis Tito became the first space tourist. Has the demand for space travel increased a lot during the past decade? Why do you think it has (or has not)?
There is a growing demand for real space experiences as well as Earth-based immersive space simulations/resorts. To date seven people have flown into Earth orbit spending about 10 days each at the International Space Station. One person has flown twice. All of the pioneering private space travelers had a great time off-Earth and want to return. There is a growing waiting list to fly.
You are best known for the architectural design work you have done for NASA. But you also designed science facilities for scientists working in other types of extreme environments, such as underwater and in Antarctica. What do these types of out-of-the-ordinary laboratories have in common?
Safety is the main concern for all of the facilities in these extreme environments. Bad design/operations kill people. The overall goals are similar. Exploration, scientific knowledge, generating new questions. The facilities and equipment are different but the design process is the same.
How did you become involved with The Science & Entertainment Exchange? Why did you want to become a consultant for the entertainment industry?
I truly believe in The Exchange’s mission of networking experts to writers, directors, and producers in the entertainment and media industry. The more real science we show in our storytelling mediums the better. I think it is important for young people to see real science in the media because we do not have as much real science in our junior and high schools anymore.
What have you learned from the entertainment industry that you applied in your work as an architect and designer?
There is an amazing amount of new technologies coming out of the entertainment industry. Much of that is in visualization and graphic software. I am using some of that as design tools and presentation tools for my projects. I also studied the movie studio’s organization/structure and modeled some of my large-scale space/future-themed real estate development ventures after the studios.
What is the common ground between science and entertainment?
Creativity and skill in asking questions. I think of myself as a design scientist always looking for new ways to design advanced facilities in extreme environments. I call this “exploring the design Frontier” and I am always making design discoveries. In some storytelling you are exploring new ways to tell the story with new technologies or new formats such as different endings. The willingness to explore in both design and storytelling is the common connection.
What should we have asked you that we did not? What would you like to share? What inspires you? Anything you can share about your next project?
I created the concept of real orbital super yachts back in the mid-1990s based on ocean-going super and mega yachts. I have been designing the world’s first orbital super yacht called “Destiny” since then. She is a beautiful spaceship that I intend to inspire some billionaires and mega corporations to finance, build in orbit, and operate. I see several space yachts and yacht clubs in Earth orbit and yachting around the Moon in races like the America’s Cup in the next 20 years. So my personal plan is to go to space to inspect the yachts I designed. It is a good plan.
Image credits: Orbital Super Yacht “Destiny” – image by Jeff Coatney, from John Spencer.