We’ve all thought about it. Brain surgeon. Rocket scientist. Eco warrior. Extra on Spartacus: Blood and Sand. (OK, maybe that last one’s just me.) There’s a lot that must beat the City grind. So how do you go from being a superstar trader at Goldman Sachs to becoming an astronaut?
“It all started with a text message,” explains Anton Kreil. After making his name on the pan-European equities trading desk at Goldman, Kreil was headhunted to work for Lehman Brothers, before soon moving to JP Morgan, before retiring from investment banks at the age of 27. Lucky bugger.
If you recognise his face, it may be from his role on the BBC’s show Million Dollar Traders, where he was mentor for a team of eight novices who were taken off the street to run a hedge fund in a matter of weeks. Kreil is now the CEO of the Institute of Trading & Portfolio Management, training traders of the future. But that’s his day job. It’s clear that the City streets are never quite going to cut it; for him, it turns out space really is the final frontier.
“The text read ‘Do you fancy going to space and becoming an astronaut?’ I had to laugh, and sent back a message: ‘Tell me more…?’”
The text had come from an old friend of Kreil’s who now works for the Dutch space tourism company Space Expedition Corporation (SXC). A couple of days after receiving it, Kreil had already arranged to meet the company’s CEO, and Formula 1 team owner, Michiel Mol to discuss the reality of flying into space.
“At that stage I was just considering it as something that sounded pretty cool but a bit unrealistic,” recounts Kreil. “As I learnt more about it, though, the likelihood of it happening became a lot higher than I first thought.”
At this point, there have only been about 560 people in history who have flown into space. Kreil rather fancies being added to that list. He will also officially become an astronaut. “It was pretty obvious that I would make history in some way if I just bought a ticket and went to space,” he says. “But, I started to think what else could I do to break a record along the way? Executing the ‘First Trade From Space’ made perfect sense.” One week later, he travelled to Holland to sign the contract and buy his ticket, at $95,000 (return).
The record attempt will be for the ‘First Trade from Space’ and ‘The Highest Trade Ever Executed’. He’s planning both a currency and a stock trade within each category. Concerning the currency pair, Kreil is a Brit and flying in a US-built shuttle, so GBP/USD seems the natural fit and will most likely be a $1m trade in homage to his role on Million Dollar Traders. “I certainly can’t commit to trading the Euro,” Kreil admits. “The way things are looking at the moment, it may not even be around by the time we fly.”
The specifics of the stock trade are still up in the air (as it were). “I’m currently speaking with companies in the US, UK, and Europe,” Kreil explains. “We’re looking at doing a big one – and we will likely announce the stock a few weeks or months before the flight.” The trade will be a multiple record: the ‘First Trade from Space’, the ‘First Stock Traded from Space’, the ‘Highest Trade Ever Executed’ and the ‘First Financial Transaction from Space’ to name but a few. It will be broadcast live on the internet and the sponsor will get worldwide exposure. “There will be several cameras inside the aircraft. I’ll be floating weightless in the cockpit, looking down at Earth and buying the sponsor’s stock. From a sponsor’s perspective, the concept of being a global pioneer has to be a great PR message. It’s an amazing project to be involved in.” Kreil is also in talks with several investment banks and brokers about the rights to execute the trades.
The possibilities are pretty endless: “I could actually break the speed trading record pretty easily too if I did a trade on the way to space; our top speed will be more than 3,600km/h.”
LAUNCH T-MINUS 18 MONTHS
So when’s lift off? Kreil is in a race against, among others, Richard Branson to become the first British tourist to make it into outer space – aiming to take off in Q1 or Q2 of 2014. “Branson has been delayed over the last few years for various reasons,” says Kreil. “There is no indication that the SXC flights will be delayed in any way.”
The CEO of SXC certainly has form in running complex and high-tech companies: Michiel Mol is the co-owner of the Formula 1 racing team Force India, and the founder of Europe’s largest digital advertising agency Lost Boys International (LBi). His official role at SXC is ‘head of mission control’. Now, that’s one hell of a business card. The rest of SXC’s founders are no less impressive. Ben Droste, head of strategic command, was commander-in-chief of the Royal Netherlands Airforce before retiring in 2000. He has flown more than 4,000 hours in various military aircraft, including 1,000 hours in an F-16. Harry ‘Slinger’ van Hulten is the experimental test pilot, with more than 3,000 hours military flying experience. Maarten Elshove is the financial brains behind the operation, working at ABN AMRO and KPMG before setting up several successful financial software ventures. And the man with his hands on the shuttle’s controls will be ex-NASA astronaut Colonel Rick Searfoss, a NASA veteran with three space missions and 39 days in space under his belt. “I couldn’t have hoped for a better qualified or more dedicated team of professionals.” Just as well, really, given what Kreil is soon to face.
FLIGHT OF THE NAVIGATOR
The flights will occur at either of the SXC’s bases in Curacao or Mohave, California. The shuttle will take off from the runway, like a normal passenger jet. “But the difference is that it will just be myself and the pilot in the cockpit,” says Kreil. From take-off, it will hit Mach 1 (761 mph) within one minute, and will top out at Mach 3 (2,283mph). “We will be in outer space within four minutes.”
Outer space is internationally recognised as anywhere beyond 100km above sea level – what’s known as the Kármán Line. The flight will reach more than 103km above Earth. When the shuttle has reached 60km, the rocket engines will be switched off and it will float upwards in a parabolic manoeuvre. “We will then be weightless in the cockpit. Before the 60km barrier, we will be hitting about 4.5G. So, basically, that’s the same as carrying 4.5 times your own bodyweight,” explains Kreil. “However, we will be wearing specially-designed astronaut suits that inflate and help maintain a constant flow of blood in the top half of the body.”
To get prepared for the flight, there is a six-stage training programme. “I’ve already completed the first part: the L39 Albatross military-fighter-jet training. I even had a go at flying the jet myself.” This is pretty crucial, as unlike other space tourism programmes, Kreil will actually be a co-pilot as opposed to just a passenger. He will even be given a call sign. “It may come down to what the sponsors want.”
Later, he’ll be tested in both a centrifuge chamber (like the one in Moonraker) and a hybrid centrifuge, which includes a simulator, too. “This allows us to train for G-forces and the flight at the same time. We’ll also be undertaking altitude chamber training, weightlessness training on zero-gravity parabolic flights and a mission tactics course.”
On the way back to earth, at approximately 10km above sea level, the pilot will execute a ‘pull out’ manoeuvre to lose speed, where again Kreil will be hitting above 4.5Gs. “To maintain blood supply to the top half of your body during these high-G stages, you have to tighten your leg muscles – this pushes blood into the upper body. If you don’t do this, you can risk passing out. We’ve already been training our bodies to take up to 6Gs without the astronaut suit. So by the time we fly, the speed and the G-forces shouldn’t be a problem to handle. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up even when I’m just talking about it.”
The spaceship is called the Lynx MKII, produced by the Californian aerospace company XCOR. “It really is ridiculously cool,” says Kreil. “It’s basically like a military fighter jet that has been modified to go into space.”
The rocket engines are groundbreaking as they can be used up to 5,000 times. A normal rocket engine would just burn out and then have to be thrown away and replaced, but this revolutionary engineering means that space travel is now commercially viable.
“What I love most about the spaceship is the cockpit canopy. The entire top half of the cockpit is transparent, like a huge viewing screen. So when I’m in space and looking down at earth, I won’t be looking through a tiny airline window. I’ll be able to see 270 degrees. When the shuttle goes upside down I will be looking right across the horizon of earth into space with undisturbed views.”
The shuttle has to pass several hundred test flights with the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) but Kreil remains hopeful: “I believe by the end of this year the shuttle will be complete and rolled out.”
A life-long fan of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (and Armageddon “for pure cheese”), did Kreil ever dream of space when he was on the trading floor? “To be honest, the most I dreamt about when I was working for investment banks was just getting a good night’s sleep. I never at all thought it would be possible to go into space as a civilian. But when I realised this was real and going to happen, it started to become an obsession.”
The fact that one of the other 100 ‘Founder Astronauts’ of the SXC space programme is Victoria Secret model Doutzen Kroes is pure coincidence, of course. I had to ask him if at least a small part of him was doing it just so he could tell women he was an astronaut.
“I can certainly see where you’re coming from. There are certainly women out there that do like a bit of adventure and danger but I’m not doing this for shallow reasons. I just want to make a bit of history and have some fun along the way.” And is there anything he’s nervous about? “Er, coming back?”
To follow Kreil’s escapades, go to antonkreil.com. If you fancy becoming an astronaut too, email Ralph Manheim on firstname.lastname@example.org. For a behind-the-scenes video of our photoshoot, download the new square mile iPad App from iTunes now.
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