I was thrilled when Mark Cowne, of London based Kruger Cowne, announced to a packed auditorium that he would be opening applications to the Rising Star program for outstanding members of the OYW delegation and the global public, to send one lucky individual into space. There was a briefest of pauses whilst we digested this information, before the room burst into applause.
Naturally, I wanted to learn as much as possible so I sought an interview with Mark to understand his motivations behind the offer of such a fantastic opportunity and learn more about how I could be in with a chance.
Following a warm introduction and a chat, I wanted to know about the journey.
Mark enthused, "You go a hundred and seventy kilometers up and a tiny boost from a rocket will send you anywhere within a couple of hours. Such travel can send you to Australia, to America... With XCOR [the flight operator] their rockets can land and take off 4 times a day. For others, the rocket has to be rebuilt after every time and have to be dropped at height from an aircraft, whereas the Lynx shuttle takes off straight from the runway."
Discussing his motivation behind Rising Stars, Mark described, "Kruger Cowne represent iconic individuals and manage some of the greatest talent in the world. When we were looking at our roster we realized there aren't any new icons: where is the next Geldof, the activist that started the anti-apartheid movement at age 16 in Dublin; where is the next Boris Becker who won Wimbledon at age 19? We didn't want to just start with anything though so we thought for the launch of Rising Star we should call in Michiel Mol from XCOR Aerospace. We thought let's award an opportunity worth 150,000 dollars, send one of those amazing young people into space and launch their iconic career. We're very short of astronauts, so let's go out and find one."
Discussing the application process, Mark explained how someone such as myself would go about becoming the first Rising Star; "Applications are open through our website but it's not an easy process. You cannot believe the quality of the contributions we have already had from applicants. One of the first to apply contacted us, asking whether he gets priority because he applied first. I loved his tenacity but I said, ''No, but thank you!'' After sending the shortlisted candidates to OYW 2015, we will announce the winner there, and training will commence directly after. I actually did a lot of the training myself with Geldof and I must say, it's not for the feint of heart."
Divulging more information about the harsh environments of space, Mark explained why such training exists, "The training is crucial if you want to be able to handle and really enjoy the flight. It's like when you're at the big fairground on the intense rides, you tend to close your eyes, hold your breath and suddenly it's all over. When you do it the second time, because you have the previous experience, you remember the stresses and strains, and soon realize you're not going to die after all. If you don't know how to control your blood flow, how to prepare your muscles, how can you possibly enjoy the flight?"
Taking in the demanding reality of what the journey entails, but not being deterred, I further asked why he wanted to share such experiences with young people. "The current youth is the future of our planet. It boils down to what Antony Jenkins, CEO of Barclays was saying, if we can provide the next generation with anything, let it be expertise. Let it be the knowledge on where we failed. And it would be up to these people to pick it up and try to put it right."
Speaking of the reality of fame and what Kruger Cowne would be looking out for, Mark divulged, "It's a combination of things. Rinsing Star will also offer a commercial management contract to talk about their experience and we will help them with their projects and guide them. What we are looking for is somebody who is well rounded; somebody who has a great vision; somebody who wants to be really good at something they do, NOT somebody who wants to be famous. Historically, those classified as ''really famous'' became that because they were REALLY good at what they do. None of them woke up one day and said,''I want to be famous.'' They woke up and said, ''I want to play bass in a really good band.'' We want to find someone who exudes that passion.''
Wanting to understand what it takes to be a great leader, I asked Mark his views, "I was talking to Geldof about leadership and he said, ''I am not a leader. I am a musician.'' And I said, ''Yes but you also put a band together, made the band a global success and got involved in the project with Africa and you made 1.6 billion people believe in you... now tell me what part of that is not leadership quality?''It's about having a goal and pursuing it with every fibre of your being."
Having been a successful talent agent and running an inspirational speaker bureau, I wanted to know Mark's advice on how you tell in your early twenties that you're on the right career path... "It's so hard to make such a decision, especially at that point in your life. I never imagined when I was younger that, at the age I am now, I would be leading Kruger Cowne to international success. I didn't know I would have the power to send someone to space. And I didn't know back then what skill set I would need to get to where I am today, it's something you pick up, work on and develop along the way. I think that the most important thing for anybody is to allow room to grow and consider all paths."
Having picked Mark's brain for near to an hour, I thanked him for his time to which he kindly offered me luck if I chose to apply to Rising Stars. Understanding what a truly inspirational opportunity this is, I left the interview with a sense of purpose.... It's time to become an astronaut.