Hatmaker to the stars, David Shilling is about to become one of the first civilians in history to see the sun rise and set every 90 minutes, making Monaco the 19th nation to send an astronaut to space.
Last summer, to mark the 50th anniversary of the landing on the moon, toymaker LEGO asked 3,000 children, ages eight to 12 in the U.S., UK and China, what they wanted to be when they grew up. Only 11% replied an astronaut, while a third said YouTuber.
The fantasy of space travel came to life for many youngsters, including Monaco resident David Shilling, as a result of the first astronauts landing on the moon on July 20, 1969, as part of NASA’s Apollo program.
“I never really thought it would be possible in my lifetime,” says Shilling, a British milliner and sculptor who is set to become Monaco’s first private astronaut.
The adventure began in November 2018 during a week-long celebration in Monaco to mark the 60th anniversary of NASA.
A memorandum of understanding to send a Monaco resident to Low Earth Orbit by 2020 was signed between Texas-based Axiom Space and Space Systems International-Monaco.
During the course of that week, Shilling met American astronaut Michael Lopez-Alegria, a veteran of three Space Shuttle Missions. “I admitted to him that I am bowled over whenever I see satellite images of the Earth.”
Shilling kept in touch with Lopez-Alegria, who is Axiom’s director of business development, and the pair met again at the Ilan Ramon Space Conference in Tel Aviv in January 2019. Shilling is now a prospective private astronaut heading to the International Space Station (ISS) as early as 2021. The flight, which will include two other “privates” and a professional astronaut rocketing into orbit, would make Monaco the 19th sovereign nation to send an astronaut to the ISS.
To participate in the $55 million round-trip excursion, an estimated 10 days including a week or so in orbit, Shilling is subjected to on-going physical and mental medical tests. At the moment, a 15-week training program in Houston is on the agenda although the departure date has not been announced.
When he does eventually lift off, Shilling can expect some comforts from home, including a laptop and one hour of internet access per day.
“If I wanted a luxury resort with superb staff and amazing views, I would check into the Kulm in St. Moritz—life is not complete until you swim in their open air Jacuzzi,” Shilling teases. “I am quite aware that things are going to be different."
Traveling at a speed of 27,500 km/h—or 8 kilometers a second—Shilling will see the sun rise and set every 90 minutes.
“Adjusting to the 90-minute day cycle as opposed to 24 hour will be a challenge and it will take some getting used to zipping into a sleeping bag and attaching it in zero gravity— and they’ll be no beside chocolates!”
“I’d wait another decade to go the moon but, at my age, I have to get myself to space as soon as I can,” confesses the 71-year-old.
Acknowledging that “I am not a billionaire and any money I have, I made myself,” Shilling is looking to develop partnerships with innovative individuals and companies involved with superyachts, jets and global travel experiences so together they can benefit while making an impact through space travel.
“I am passionate about showing space travel from a different angle. People think I am crazy because of the danger, but I have got used to the cynicism, especially from 25- to 55-year-olds, who say this is not possible.”
In addition to working with a small team to help build his profile on social media, a U.S.- based international network has been following Shilling’s progress over the past six months and there is talk of a film.
His past is as intriguing as his future. Shilling’s father was a volunteer during World War II who was captured by the Italian Army and escaped only to be captured again by the Germans. His parents were married for a decade before he was born, having reveled in a glamorous social life during the Fifties and Sixties.
“As an only child with no relations of my own age around, I enjoyed a more sophisticated life than most children,” he shares. His mother, Gertrude, started consulting him on what she should wear and with which jewelry for special occasions. “She favored diamonds because she said they were practical and went with everything. I was fascinated by the craftsmanship and the design.”
At age 12, he designed his first hat—massively over-sized at 3-feet wide with black and white tulle—for his mom to wear to Royal Ascot. “What started as a once in a lifetime experience turned my mother into the ‘Mascot of Royal Ascot’ with her annual appearances at the races. That first time, I came home from school and my parents were front page news.”
Over the years, Shilling’s Ascot hats became grander and more colorful. “The media loved to post photos of her, not always approving but the public around the world got to love seeing her every year.”
Yet Shilling confesses he “never wanted to be a milliner.” At age 16, he ran away from St. Paul’s School, London, putting an end to his educational career. He headed to the City to earn a living and made high fashion scarves, selling them to Fortnum & Mason and Fenwicks.
“The buyer at the very on trend Liberty store invited me to make a small collection of hats. I realized that no one was making hats that fashionable women really wanted.”
Two days after opening his own store in 1976, on the then-neglected Marylebone High Street, a woman ordered 24 hats. He remains tightlipped about his client list but it has been reported that Kylie Minogue, Shirley Bassey and Joanna Lumley are loyal fans.
“I am tempted to make a hat while in orbit although I will have so many options and only a week onboard so I have to prioritize.”
A Monaco resident for nearly 20 years, Shilling says he is careful not to research his trip to outer space too much. “When something has too big of a build up it can be a disappointment when you actually see it, like the film La La Land.”
Shilling has always suspected there are other life forces outside our own planet, but doubts he will ever discover in his lifetime a place he would rather live than Monaco. “I imagine when I return home it will be extraordinary to sit down by the digue, look up in the sky and think that I was up there once.”
WHAT TO PACK FOR SPACE TRAVEL
Baggage allowance for astronauts is pretty limited.
“I cannot imagine there is any one thing I am unable to live without in space. Although when I travel, I do so miss the bugle being sounded at 10 p.m. outside the palace, not many residents get to hear it.”
David Shilling says he will be packing diamonds and precious stones to design super-luxury jewelry and watches to reflect his out of this world experi- ence. “I’m already thinking about what I’ll wear each day onboard, adding a bit of glamour to space travel although, with the weight restrictions, taking fur coats is probably out of the question.”
Article first published on March 17, 2020.