Seattle startup founder lobbies for seat on SpaceX craft that will take civilian crew to orbit

Austin Hirsh, founder of Seattle-based The 2050 Company, in his video promoting himself as a viable candidate for a civilian mission to space. (Twitter via @AustinHirsh)

The founder of a bootstrapped Seattle startup who launched his company on Kickstarter is looking to hitch a ride to space with a tech billionaire, and he’s using a video on Twitter to plead his case.

Austin Hirsh, the 23-year-old University of Washington graduate and founder of The 2050 Company, wants to be in one of four available seats when SpaceX’s Crew Dragon spacecraft heads to orbit, possibly as early as this year. The civilian space mission, called Inspiration4, is being bankrolled in part by Jared Isaacman, the 37-year-old founder and CEO of Pennsylvania-based Shift4 Payments. Isaacman is a trained jet pilot who will serve as commander.

Hirsh answered the call for entries for one of the seats that will go to “an inspirational entrepreneur.” He was required to set up a 2050 storefront using  Shift4Shop, the e-commerce platform offered by Isaacman’s company.

The other crewmates on the trip will be a front-line health care worker at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Tennessee and the winner of a sweepstakes organized to benefit St. Jude. Isaacman is looking to raise $200 million for the charity.

Hirsh posted his tweet the same day an ad aired for the mission during Super Bowl LV. He told GeekWire he’s dreamed of going to space since he was a kid, but didn’t necessarily expect it would ever come true.

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“My parents were both commercial airline pilots and I studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, so the technology behind space flight has always intrigued me,” Hirsh said. “However, I’d say the most appealing aspect of space travel, especially for a sustainability-minded entrepreneur like myself, is the once-in-a-lifetime chance to be able to look down on Earth from the outside!”

Hirsh’s company uses freeze-drying technology to turn fresh “imperfect produce” into an instant smoothie mix. Each smoothie contains upcycled fruit that would have otherwise been wasted because of surplus amounts or cosmetic flaws.

After seeing SpaceX founder Elon Musk and Isaacman on television, he spent a day putting together a video and designing a website. At the end of the month, a panel of “celebrity judges” will take the top trending tweets and choose the winner based on the content of the video and the entrepreneur’s story.

In his video, Hirsh points to the long history of space innovations influencing life on Earth.

“Initially, solar panels, memory foam, computer mice, and wireless headphones were invented exclusively for astronauts,” he said. “SpaceX has made it obvious that space travel is no longer just for astronauts. With the launch of The 2050 Smoothie, neither is space food!”

The 2050 Company founder Austin Hirsh holds a container of smoothie powder and the finished product. (2050 Company Photo)

Hirsh graduated with an MS in entrepreneurship from UW last May and launched his smoothie product on Kickstarter in August, raising $40,000 in one month. After working solo for two years, he’s set to bring on a friend as co-founder and 2050 Company is working on getting smoothies into a handful of grocery stores and retail locations in the Seattle area.

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The startup graduated this month from the Foster School of Business’s Jones + Foster Accelerator, and received $25,000 in funding to keep building the business.

If he’s chosen for Inspiration4, Hirsh would go through extensive mission training — a unique experience in and of itself. He said he’s been tracking SpaceX for a long time and while it’s nerve-racking to think about being part of the first for anything, he trusts the Falcon 9 rocket that sent two NASA astronauts to space last year.

“Everything is still so hypothetical right now,” he said. “I suspect that if I was chosen, I would probably experience a few crazy days of alternating excitement and disbelief as I wrapped my mind around the reality that I was actually going to space!”

Check out the 2050 pop-up storefront for more details on Hirsh’s mission hopes.


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