When Jim Kitchen blasted off into space on Blue Origin’s fourth human mission in March, he was in much better shape than the company required. Kitchen is a professor of strategy and entrepreneurship at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, but being an academic hasn’t stopped him from training like an athlete. He spent the previous 10 months preparing for the 10-Minute Flight, including cross-training with boxing and weightlifting. He’s also prepared for a 50-mile ultramarathon, running up to 40 miles a day for the past month. “I ran somewhere close to 1,300 miles in total,” says Kitchen.
“The last thing I wanted to do was get disqualified because I wasn’t fit,” he said.
Robb Report spoke to the adventurer about his obsession with space and how going beyond the gym can help you get out of this world.
RR: How long have you wanted to be an astronaut?
JK: From the age of 6, I saw the launch of Apollo 11 in 1969 with my mother and I knew that was what I wanted. I became an entrepreneur instead, but I was determined to get into space one way or another. I had made a 30-year journey where I had visited the 193 countries recognized by the United Nations. After the 193rd country, in 2019, I said to myself: “What is my next trip?
RR: Space? JK: I knew I had to find my way to spaceflight. I did a casting for a reality TV show but I didn’t get cast. I was one of tens of thousands of applicants for SpaceX’s Inspiration4 sub-orbit around Earth last year, but I was not chosen.
RR: But you kept trying?
JK: I could have been one of the first 600 passengers on Virgin Galactic, but I didn’t want to wait. Then I made contact via LinkedIn with someone from Blue Origin. I emailed him about 20 times – just pestered him – and next thing you know, I was on the March launch.
RR: How did you prepare for it physically?
JK: In 2021, I started training for this ultramarathon. I’m a runner and have run over 20 marathons, but accelerated the race in anticipation of space travel. Besides long distances, I did track training, running 400 and 800 meters. I also cross-trained for upper body and cardiovascular strength by doing weightlifting and boxing two days a week.
RR: Did it help you?
JK: Yes, although the Blue Origin flight was more intense than I expected. When we lifted off and reached 3.5G, the rocket made a slight turn and tilted, which upset my vestibular system. I even found this climb a bit harder than the descent, where we topped 5Gs. I had experienced 6.2Gs in a NASTAR training course, but it was even more intense than that. [Editor’s note: The National Aerospace Training and Research Center is the first Federal Aviation Administration–approved commercial spaceflight school.]
RR: Wait, did you take a space preparation course?
JK: It was a two-day suborbital space course, which included training and flying in a specially designed centrifuge. The course allows you to understand what flying will be like and how to overcome the challenges. This was helpful as we learned the same breathing techniques fighter pilots use to avoid becoming disoriented. The last thing I wanted to do was pass out. I was breathing well and really enjoyed the view up there.
RR: That seems like a good prerequisite.
JK: You don’t have to, but I would recommend it to people. I also did parabolic flights, which was good because I learned what weightlessness is like before I went into space. Everyone on these parabolic flights got sick. I haven’t been sick at all.
RR: Do you want to go back?
JK: My dream is to visit the International Space Station. I’ve been to all the countries recognized by the UN, and I want to see all this spectacle from space, just without borders. The problem is, I don’t have $55 million just for that. But when you taste a little, you want a lot more. That’s why it’s important for me to stay fit “in space” by training twice a day and eating right. I hope one day to be orbital.