5 Things I Learned By Hacking My Way Into Space

The incredible story of how Jon Spooner ended up with Tim Peake on the International Space Station. Or at least, a version of him did…

Matt Locke
6 min readJan 10, 2018


Mini Jon floating in microgravity in the Cupola module on the International Space Station, March 2016. Photo: Tim Peake

In 2010 Jon Spooner of Unlimited Theatre accidentally set up his own space agency. Based out of his garden shed, the Unlimited Space Agency started as a fun way to tell inspirational stories about science to children. It turns out that if you go around wearing a spacesuit and saying you’re “the Director of Human Spaceflight Operations for the Unlimited Space Agency”, more people than you might imagine want to join in and play along. What started as a dream ended up with British astronaut Tim Peake taking a 3D printed ‘Mini Jon’ with him — fulfilling Jon’s lifelong ambition to go to space.

Here are the Five Things Jon learned as he hacked his way into space…

1) If you don’t ask, you don’t get.

My mum always told us “If you don’t ask, you don’t get”. It’s a cliché, but through embarrassment, or shyness, or fear of rejection, most people don’t. The worst thing that can happen is someone says ‘No’, and I’m fine with that. When that happens, I figure I’m just asking the wrong person, so I go and find the right one.

My mum wasn’t talking about being pushy or asking for things you didn’t deserve or hadn’t earned — we’re talking about basic stuff here. Asking for help, support, ‘Can I have a lend of your 3D printer’, and ‘Maybe you could take me with you, to space?’

My journey started by emailing a woman I’d read about on the internet — Dr Gail Iles (or Dr. Awesome as she prefers to be called). Gail is a particle physicist, and at the time was an astronaut instructor with the European Space Agency. I wrote to her and asked if we could meet. She said yes, we went for lunch and have been friends ever since.

That first time we met, I asked Gail if I might be able to visit the European Astronaut Centre in Cologne, where she worked. Y’know, for research. She said she’d see what she could do. A few days later she emailed inviting me to come out and train with her for three days as an astronaut, which was where I met Tim Peake for the first time. And that is…