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‘Space Hero’ aims for reality TV’s final frontier

Will “Space Hero” go where no reality TV show has gone before?

Twenty years after “Destination: Mir” promised to put the winning contestant of a broadcast TV competition into orbit, “Space Hero” aims to take advantage of new commercial spaceflight opportunities to follow through on that promise at last.

But cautionary tales abound.

“Destination: Mir,” created by “Survivor” producer Mark Burnett for NBC, fizzled out along with Russia’s Mir space station not long after the project was unveiled in 2000. A similar project, aimed at putting boy-band singer Lance Bass on the International Space Station, faded away in 2002 when producers couldn’t come up with the money.

The list goes on — highlighted by Mars One’s unsuccessful bid to get a Red Planet TV project off the ground, Burnett’s fruitless effort to create an NBC series focusing on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, soprano superstar Sarah Brightman’s abortive attempt to fly to the space station in 2015 and this year’s failure to launch for Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa’s space-based matchmaking show.

One British TV series, “Space Cadets,” told contestants that they were being trained for a space shot but actually set them up for one of the most elaborate hoaxes in television history.

This time will be different, said veteran entertainment industry executive Marty Pompadur, the chairman of Space Hero LLC.

“Space Hero is the new frontier for the entertainment sector, offering the first-ever truly off-planet experience,” Pompadur said today in a news release. “We aim to reinvent the reality TV category by creating a multi-channel experience that offers the biggest prize ever, to the biggest audience possible. Space Hero is about opening space up to everyone — not only to astronauts and billionaires.”

The show would trace the training of contestants for a spot on a spacecraft heading to the space station as early as 2023. Axiom Space, a commercial venture that has already struck a deal with NASA and SpaceX for a privately funded space trip, would be in charge of training and mission management. A global audience would cast votes to pick the winner, and there’d be live coverage of the 10-day space stay.

Space Hero says it’s currently in discussions with NASA for a potential partnership that would include educational initiatives. A countdown clock on the company’s webpage is ticking down to April 12, 2021, which marks the scheduled kickoff for the application process as well as the 60th anniversary of the world’s first human spaceflight.

The venture’s founding partners are Thomas Reemer, who has produced unscripted video programming in Germany; and Deborah Sass, whose career has focused on entertainment and lifestyle branding.

“When Thomas and I started this venture, we were very clear that there was nothing like it on the planet,” Sass said. “Today we have started our mission to find our distribution partner and are ready to take it to the next stage and get the world excited about Space Hero.”

The project is being produced by Propagate Content, a company founded by Ben Silverman and Howard T. Owens. Those executives have a storied pedigree in the entertainment industry, touching on shows ranging from “The Office” to an upcoming Eurovision spin-off series called “The American Song Contest.”

Will “Space Hero” succeed where past space TV projects failed? Those past efforts went by the wayside primarily because of a lack of funding. Potential distributors and sponsors have traditionally been chary about backing entertainment projects that could turn into a scrub — or, far worse, a Challenger-style tragedy.

Spaceflight doesn’t come cheap: The projected ticket price for flying commercially to the space station on a SpaceX Dragon or a Boeing Starliner is thought to be in the range of $50 million to $60 million, and NASA has said it’d charge roughly $35,000 a day on top of that cost for a space station stay.

But if projects that are already in the pipeline for space station stardom — such as Estee Lauder’s skin care ad campaign or the granddaddy of them all, Tom Cruise’s zero-G movie — turn into palpable, profitable hits, then it just might be time to put “Space Hero” on your appointment calendar for must-see space TV.

Update for 5 p.m. PT Sept. 17: I asked Hannah Walsh, who is handling public affairs for Space Hero, about the venture’s funding. Here’s her emailed reply:

“Space Hero is currently in the second stage of fundraising, which is exactly where they should be in the plan, and [they] are very comfortable with where they are in the process. Contracts have been signed with all partners and the next step is to evaluate the distribution offers and choose the relationship that best suits the project. Potential investors can find out more by contacting investment firm Gerald Edelman.”

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Axiom wins NASA’s OK for habitat on space station

Axiom Segment
Artwork shows the Axiom Segment connected to the International Space Station. (Axiom Space Illustration)

Houston-based Axiom Space has won NASA’s nod to attach a commercial habitation module to the International Space Station by as early as 2024.

The “Axiom Segment” of the space station is designed to connect to the station’s Harmony node and provide a crew habitat, a research and manufacturing facility and a large-windowed Earth observatory. When the International Space Station reaches retirement, Axiom plans to add a power platform and turn its hardware into a free-flying commercial space station.

Axiom’s team also include Boeing, Thales Alenia Space Italy, Intuitive Machines and Maxar Technologies.

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Axiom offers space station vacations for $55M

Axiom view in Cupola
An artist’s conception shows a space traveler floating in zero gravity. (Axiom Space Illustration)

How much would you pay for a 10-day stay in low Earth orbit? Houston-based Axiom Space has set a $55 million price point for trips that it says could begin as early as 2020.

If you want to fly that soon, Axiom Space is offering accommodations on the International Space Station. But the company, headed by a former NASA space station program manager, says it’ll eventually have its own place in space.

“It is an honor to continue the work that NASA and its partners have begun, to bring awareness to the profound benefits of human space exploration and to involve more countries and private citizens in these endeavors,” Axiom Space CEO and President Michael Suffredini said today in a news release.

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NASA veteran plans commercial space station

Image: Space station
Artwork shows a potential commercial space station. (Credit: Axiom Space via YouTube)

Former space station manager Mike Suffredini says he’s working on a plan to send up a commercial space module that could be attached to the International Space Station – and then disattached to become the foundation for a private-sector outpost in orbit.

“We intend to work on a low-Earth-orbit platform to follow the International Space Station,” Suffredini said today at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace 2016 conference in Seattle.

Representatives of the new venture, called Axiom Space, are in contact with NASA about the idea, but Suffredini stressed that he’s staying at arm’s length to comply with the space agency’s conflict-of-interest requirements.

Suffredini left NASA last September and is now Axiom’s president as well as the president ofStinger Ghaffarian Technologies‘ commercial space division. Axiom is currently structured as an SGT subsidiary, with SGT co-founder Kam Ghaffarian serving as Axiom’s CEO, Suffredini said.

Axiom already has seed funding, Suffredini said. If NASA gives the go-ahead, the venture would raise additional money from investors to finance the construction of the module and get it launched to the station in the 2020-2021 time frame.

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