Your smartphone could be your ticket to space — if Space Nation takes flight

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SAN FRANCISCO — Space Nation, the Finnish startup seeking to pave the way for the transition of humanity into space, announced plans May 16 to conduct experiments on the International Space Station.

“We are democratizing access to the space station to do experiments,” Peter Vesterbacka, the marketing genius who helped turn Rovio Entertainment’s Angry Birds into the most profitable mobile game franchises in history, said during the announcement’s webcast from Helsinki. “Why would that be limited to a few people?”

Researchers will be able to conduct experiments in a box equipped with a video camera and divided into 18 individual cubes measuring 10 centimeters on a side. Space Nation plans to send its first box into orbit in 2018 on a NASA cargo flight.

Space Nation also announced its new membership in the United Nation’s World Tourism Organization during the May 16 press conference.

Space Nation’s vision goes far beyond that of most startups. Vesterbacka and Kalle Vähä-Jaakkola, co-founder and chief executive of Cohu Experience, the Finnish startup that has worked quietly to establish Space Nation since 2013, are passionate about education and convinced that space exploration can inspire people of all ages to delve into science, technology, engineering, art and math.

They are not talking about dry, textbook learning, though. Vesterbacka, the man who gained worldwide attention promoting games in which red birds attack the green pigs who steal their eggs, is committed to the idea that learning should be fun.

“It’s important to realize we are competing for people’s time,” Vesterbacka told SpaceNews during a recent visit to San Francisco. “It’s not enough to deliver a boring website. It has to be fun, engaging, entertaining. We are bringing that kind of expertise to the table.

Vesterbacka and Vähä-Jaakkola were in the United States as part of their campaign to recruit “leading scientists from all over the planet to look at what kind of science we should work on, what problems we should be solving,” Vesterbacka said.

When Vesterbacka and Vähä-Jaakkola ask scientists to join the board, it often takes a few minutes for the scientists to understand the concept of Space Nation. “But then it makes perfect sense,” Vesterbacka said. “We want to have a new nation and we need a science board so we can think about the science agenda and work with every other nation on the planet.”

Space Nation is backed by Cohu Experience; Axiom Space, the Houston-based company raising money to build a private space station; Edge of Space, a startup based in Houston and Denver aimed at connecting schools and businesses with affordable launch opportunitie;, and Fun Academy, a Finnish education company.

This fall, Space Nation plans to launch its Astronaut Training Program, which will allow anyone with a smartphone to compete in a series of mental, physical and social challenges. “You can train in your daily life in engineering, science, creative problem-solving, teamwork,” Vähä-Jaakkola said. “Those skills are beneficial for anyone.”

Space Nation plans to invite the top candidates to a two-week astronaut training boot camp that it will broadcast. The first Space Nation astronaut will travel on a suborbital space flight in 2018 or whenever a commercial firm begins to offer that service, Vähä-Jaakkola said.

Future winners will travel “into orbit and ultimately to the moon and beyond,” Vesterbacka said.