Space Renaissance Man: John S. Spencer


Brook E. Mantia

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John S. Spencer is a true renaissance man for the millennium. He’s an architect, real estate developer, master planner, and a visionary pioneer of “The Design Frontier” with a fierce passion for creating humanity’s future in space. John Spencer is a waaay cool guy.

Recently I had the great pleasure of spending an afternoon with John Spencer, founder and president of the Space Tourism Society (among other things), and visiting his design studio in Los Angeles. I remember John from the first space conference I ever went to in 1980, where he gave a presentation on space habitat design. Since then he’s become widely regarded as an expert in outer space architecture, working on projects for NASA, serving as a consultant to major movie studios and creating innovative concepts for space and future themed projects ranging from resort hotels to theme parks, exhibits, media, and products.

John SpencerJohn holding a section model of the Destiny 1

John first caught the “space bug” in 1978 while he was still an architecture student, after reading The High Frontier, by Princeton physics professor, Dr. Gerard K. O’Neill, the “father of space colonies.” The vision of life in space for thousands of people was a stunning inspiration that set the course for the rest of his life. It didn’t take him long to see the potential of space tourism as the fastest, most economical way to make that happen. Now he’s focused on creating the “passenger experience” for citizen explorers, using the cruise ship and superyacht industry as a model.

One of his many current projects is Destiny One, an orbital superyacht that would accommodate up to 20 passengers and eight crewmembers for a week-long space cruise. Composed of three 34-foot diameter inflated habitation and recreational spheres, and three smaller emergency life pods attached to a hardcore hub, *Destiny One* would provide the luxury and comfort of a five-star hotel. Guests would be treated to panoramic views of the Earth sweeping gracefully below, and offered a variety of recreational activities to enhance their experience of weightlessness.

Realistically, Destiny One probably won’t be accommodating guests for another 20 or 30 years in John’s estimation, so in the meantime, he’s creating more down-to-earth ways for people to get a taste of the future today. His for profit-company, Space Renaissance, Inc. (SRI), designs and produces space fairs, touring space shows, and Space Experience Simulators that the whole family can enjoy. John coined the term “simutainment” to describe this new frontier of entertainment design. In 1982, he designed and developed a three-day simulated space cruise to low-Earth orbit that inspired Japan’s “Space World” that opened in 1991, and SRI is now working on offering similar sims in California before too long.

As we sat on his back patio, he enthusiastically shared with me his business plans and drawings for some delightful projects. He created and designed a future theme complex called “Future Port,” featuring “The Science Fiction Hall of Fame” which will be built next to the Queen Mary in Long Beach. It will be a sight to behold, with the main building shaped like a giant flying saucer, and a sequence of lights around the rim to create the illusion of spinning.

Next July, his Space Fair, Inc. venture will be producing Space Fair 2001. Their slogan is “Feel the Future.” So if you happen to be near Irvine, California next year, you’ll have a chance to sample the future for yourself, with everything from future fashion, to a space yacht simulation. Space Fair 1998 was a tremendous success. Exhibitors and sponsors included NASA, Boeing, Lockheed, Kodak, GTE, Apple Computer, Universal Studios and dozens of others, and attracted over 15,000 visitors.

John sees a huge market potential in space tourism. The numbers speak for themselves. In 1999, the combined attendance at the National Air and Space Museum, Kennedy and Johnson Space Centers and Space Camps was over 12 million people. According to Bonnie Dorn of the Association of Science and Technology Centers, “Almost 300 Centers in the U.S. welcome 115 million visitors a year.” And over 20 million go to Air Shows in the U.S. each year. Then, if you consider that the travel and tourism industry is the largest industry in the world, at a trillion a year, the possibilities are cosmic!

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