Dr. Chris Boshuizen’s achievements are out of this world - quite literally. As an Australian engineer and entrepreneur, Boshuizen co-founded the space technology start-up Planet Labs, which has revolutionised the earth observation industry with the highest frequency satellite data commercially available. Chris has also had the unique experience of flying to space as an astronaut aboard Blue Origin’s NS-18 mission in 2021, alongside famous actor William Shatner, known as Captain Kirk in Star Trek - how cool is that!
Chris' journey towards becoming an astronaut and co-founding a space technology company is one that you’re sure to find inspiring and fascinating. We sat down to learn more about Chris, how he achieved such great heights, and uncover what it was really like venturing into space.
1. Tell us about when your interest in space travel began. What inspired you to become an astronaut and pursue a career in space technology?
I remember being fascinated by space from a very early age. My parents used to let me stay up past my bedtime to watch a science show called “Cosmos” and I thought space was the coolest thing!
When I was about 9 or 10 years old, we went on a trip to see the Parkes Radio Telescope, which was used to download the first video of mankind walking on the Moon!
2. How did your work at NASA prepare you for your spaceflight?
At NASA, I got to work on many cool projects, one of which was putting a smartphone into orbit! Through that project I learned that space wasn’t as hostile as I thought, because the phone worked just fine in the vacuum of space! Armed with that info, I felt confident that new, safe rockets were just around the corner, and I began applying to be an astronaut on them!
3. What was your training like to become an astronaut?
The training for my flight was not too bad – because we went on a “day trip”. Astronauts who go up to space for a whole year need to be prepared for anything that could happen, but we were back for lunch! Our training was about how to use our time in zero gravity well and not forget to look out the window (it’s very tempting to do dozens of somersaults)! We had to familiarise ourselves with the noises of the rockets and the G-forces. To get used to that, I flew on a special airplane called the “vomit comet” that flew a series of parabolas (AKA falling out of the sky) to simulate zero gravity. I didn’t vomit!
4. What was the most challenging aspect of your spaceflight, and how did you overcome it?
Not kicking Mr Shatner in the head when I was doing somersaults!
But jokes aside, the hardest part was leaving my loved ones behind. I thought the rocket was very safe, but there is always a small chance something might have gone wrong. In the end, I had a great time up there, but my girlfriend and friends were very relieved when our capsule safely parachuted back to the ground!
5. What was the most memorable moment of your time in space?
The most striking thing was how brilliant the atmosphere was. It was like a thin shell of sapphire gleaming in the sunlight. It was the most beautiful thing I ever saw.
6. What was something that surprised you about going to space?
How black space was! Compared to the bright atmosphere and the glaring sun, space was an inky black. Blacker than anything I’ve ever seen on Earth. I am an explorer at heart and wasn’t scared of the blackness – I wanted to keep going and see what was inside it!
7. What advice would you give to young people interested in pursuing a career in space technology?
Never give up your dreams, ever! I was 17 when I first tried to be an astronaut. I applied to be an airforce pilot, hoping to train with NASA, but I found out I was colourblind! At first, I was disappointed, but I kept exploring new ideas, and 27 years later, I got to space! The moral of the story is, no matter how long it takes, you can do it!
8. Can you tell us about your company Planet Labs? What projects is Planet Labs currently working on, and what do you hope to achieve in the years to come?
Planet Labs has launched over 500 satellites, which they call “Doves”, and are able to map app the Earth’s surface every day. The data they collect is helping climate scientists, ecologists, marine biologists take better care of our home, the Planet Earth.
My next mission in life is to inspire more people to take up STE(A)M careers and help solve all of the problems on Earth!
9. Did you take anything to space?
I took some photos of my parents and sisters, an Australian Flag and a fluffy toy Koala. I also took a Lego man that I have had since I was a kid. Lego was a huge inspiration to me, and I wanted to carry it for all the other Lego fans out there! And finally, because my girlfriend couldn’t come with me, I brought one of her small teddy bears. The little bear floated to the window and enjoyed the view for whole flight!