Space is the Place

Marc Newson Plots a Cruise Beyond the Final Frontier

One of the most impressive pieces on display at Marc Newson’s latest exhibition, Transport, at the Gagosian Gallery, New York, is, in fact, incomplete—a cross-sectional mock-up of the passenger cabin of the Astrium Space Plane, a commuter space travel vessel he designed for the European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company. “It’s designed to take paying passengers into space for a brief period of time,” he says. “They experience zero gravity, then come back to earth again.” It may be one of the more far-flung concepts that he has worked with in the course of his career, but, as he explains below in an extract from his interview with Alison Chernick, the director of today’s exclusive film on NOWNESS, its final realization is eminently possible.  

Do you want to go space?

Yeah, I would love to go to space. For sure.  I would go in a heartbeat. I think, at this point in time, my choice would be to go up in a Russian Soviet rocket.  And stay at the International Space Station for a few days.

How and why do you go about designing a commuter space craft?

It was commissioned. I worked in conjunction with a company called EADS, which is the biggest European manufacturer of aircraft, and they own Airbus. They also manufacture rockets, through a company called Astrium, which is the largest European rocket launcher manufacturer. So I think they’re uniquely qualified to be able to design a safe spacecraft. Whether it’s made or not? I’m not sure what’s happening right now but we’re all hoping that it does evolve into a real project.

What kind of regulatory issues do you have to deal with?

Well, in terms of regulatory issues regarding paying passengers that want to go to space, there really are none. That’s one of the interesting things. It’s a burgeoning industry that a lot of people are thinking about and working on, but it’s something where a lot of legislation doesn’t exist yet.

And in terms of ergonomics?

There are a lot of issues that I had to deal with when designing it. The fundamental issue that one has to come to grips with is that it takes off like an aircraft.  It’s basically horizontal in relation to the surface of the earth. But at a certain point it becomes vertical like a rocket. How does a passenger safely experience that transition? And do it in a way that is safe?

What's the solution?

[He sits in a chair in the space craft] I call these hammocks. They pivot, so when the direction of the fuselage changes, the weight of your body and gravity will force you to always remain in the same position relative to the surface of the earth. You could otherwise do it with actuated, mechanical systems, but they’re very, very heavy and weight is one of the biggest obstacles. They’re also very prone to failure. So why not use natural forces to achieve the same thing? Also, these seats take up a very minimal amount of volume in the cabin because when you become weightless you’re just floating around the cabin, so you don’t want to be bumping into chairs and things. That’s why I kept them very close to the ground. It’s between lying down and sitting down.

What other features did you introduce for the civilian customer?

The thing’s full of windows because that’s the point of the exercise. You want to see the earth when you get into space. And all these grab handles that you can use to pull yourself around. Getting out is not so easy.


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