Space tourism is about to become a lot more common: This year, Virgin Galactic hopes to start sending citizens on regular rocket flights 60 miles above the surface of the Earth. More than 500 people have signed up for the first trips. By 2021, the spaceflight industry estimates (perhaps a little optimistically) that some 10,000 non-official astronauts will have visited space. In response, the London-based design studio postlerferguson has started imagining what all of these future space tourists will take along on their trips.
“We’re very interested in looking into the near-future industries and designing products and objects that we think will shape the coming years,” says Martin Postler, one of the founders of the firm. “The idea of orbital tourism has always been something we wanted to explore.”
In part, that’s because none of the usual rules of product design apply. “The whole world of astronauts’ equipment, objects, and tools represent a fascinating parallel world of design rules, where givens like gravity, mass production, packaging and so forth don’t really matter in the sense they would to a project on Earth,” Postler explains.
The designers decided to make a set of tools to meet the most basic needs of a future space tourist: Air, heat, light, and food. The "aerating loop" is designed to “hover around the spaceship or station, readily available to give an extra kick of oxygen,” Postler says. “The product could be used to dive through and play around with while aerating particular parts of the spaceship.”
Another loop-shaped device serves as a personal heater that astronauts can cling to for warmth. The simple form was intended as a counterpoint to the crazily complex system of pipes, fans, ducts, and grills inside the current space station.
Like the aerator and heater, a light is also designed to be floating near an astronaut at all times. "It's a hybrid between a clothing accessory and an industrial lighting with its LED lighting object and fabric casing," Postler says. "It provides a bit of atmosphere in an otherwise quite sterile and evenly lighted space."
A food steamer was designed to make space food more interesting. "Could we use zero gravity as an advantage and prepare foods in a way never possible before?" Postler asks. A steam or smoke capsule would cook food inside a mylar bag. "The food could float around inside the bag and the orbital travelers could add a bit of food culture to their daily dinners—and even smoke liquids," he says.
Each of the ideas, the designers say, could also inspire new products on Earth. "We can use the new and spectacular outlook of a more mass market orbital tourism as a design brief to rethink current products," Postler says.
"We would love to see orbital tourism to take off, triggering an amazing push of commercially funded research and development, which could then result in all sorts of innovations to be applied to our lives here on Earth," he adds.