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To Infinity, And Beyond
In the business of selling the wonder and potential of commercial spaceflight, Andrew Antonio ’12 is on the cutting edge of an industry that has him seeing stars.
Andrew F. Antonio ’12 grew up with Buzz Lightyear from the film Toy Story, that square-jawed space ranger who, with his famous line “To infinity, and beyond!” left old-fashioned-pull-toy Woody in the dust. As it turned out, Buzz could only really fly around the room, but who doesn’t dream about space—flying through it, living in it, exploring it?
“I pinch myself every day. It’s a dream come true,” says Antonio, who in his position as experience manager at World View Enterprises in Tucson, Arizona, hasn’t flown into space yet but is counting the days. “I can’t wait to go up. It’s a couple of years away, but I’ll be the first one in line.”
Through World View’s parent company, Paragon Space Corporation, Antonio was involved with the marketing and public relations for the record-breaking skydive by Google executive Alan Eustace, who in October jumped from a balloon at 135,908 feet and glided safely to Earth. The project, called StratEx—short for stratospheric explorer—employed technologies and logistics developed by Paragon. World View has acquired all of the ballooning and stratospheric technology from Paragon, as well as some of its key leaders, with the intention of making it possible for people to float to the stratosphere in a comfortable, pressurized capsule via high-altitude balloon and then to glide back down to Earth under a parafoil, exactly as Eustace did.
“It’s a five-hour flight,” says Antonio. “It’s one-and-a-half hours up. You get to 100,000 feet and float for two hours, where you can see the curvature of the earth and the blackness of space. You don’t need to wear a space suit. You can wear a T-shirt and shorts if you want. It’s very gentle, it’s not like an adrenaline-laced rocket ride. There’s no turbulence involved. And after two hours aloft, we vent some gas from the balloon which brings you down to about 70,000 feet, where the air is a little less thin.”
At that point, the capsule releases from the balloon and glides back to Earth flying under a parawing—essentially a massive, steerable parachute. Two pilots steer the wing, although backup computers on the ground can also control it. The balloon also returns to Earth under its own parachute to be reused.
“It’s not just a joyride, but something that will fundamentally change people’s lives, seeing a world without geo-political borders, dangling in the vast and vulnerable expanse of space,” Antonio says. And although they’re targeting a tourism market, he says the company believes another great benefit will be for scientists. “We jokingly call the stratosphere the ‘ignorosphere,’ because very few people have done science in that layer of the atmosphere. We do a lot of research below 60,000 feet and a lot in orbit, but little in the area in between. We want to create mass access to this largely unexplored frontier and offer it to researchers at a much lower cost than orbital spaceflight.”
At the moment, the target date for the first flight is early 2017. Manned test flights will follow unmanned tests; that’s when Antonio hopes he can go up.
Antonio was a business management major at WAC with minors in political science and economics. Leader of the SGA for two years, he won the Clark-Porter Medal, the Schottland Business Leadership Award, and the W. Dennis Berry Leadership Award. After an internship at Danaher during the summer before his senior year, he was offered a fulltime position in marketing, where he stayed for a year and a half.
“It was a great opportunity and it taught me a lot, but I was looking for something that aligned with my passion; something that would wake me up early and keep me up late at night,” he says. Interested in commercial spaceflight since he was a youngster, he stumbled upon World View’s website shortly after it launched. Captivated, he sent an email outlining his experience and basically asking for a job. “And they emailed back and said, ‘OK, let’s talk.’ I met with the CEO, and I loved the company’s philosophy. I am working with some incredibly brilliant people here.”
Antonio says what he likes most about the work he’s doing now is that it goes back to what one of his favorite teachers, Michael Harvey, associate professor of business management, instilled in him: “He always pushed us to ask the right questions. I loved his class. And that’s what this company is about, really, asking the right questions, the big questions.”