Ladies and gentleman if you could please take your seats, flight 543 Virgin Galatic is now ready for take off. Please ensure all your baggage is securely stowed and your seats are in their up right positions, as we are now due to depart the earth’s atmosphere!
If your dreams of being a rock-star, supermodel or world-heralded brain surgeon have fallen to the wayside, don’t despair because the team at Spencer Travel can rescue your fleeting childhood dreams of becoming an astronaut.
As Maria Mourikis finds out, this Australian corporate travel agent turned space agent is offering Australians the opportunity of a lifetime – the chance to travel into space.
Commercial space travel has been an active project of billionaire adventurer Sir Richard Branson since 2004. His company Virgin Galactic, in association with Burt Rutan has made this extraordinary opportunity of travelling into space a marketable reality for the general public.
Spencer Travel was handpicked by the Virgin Galactic team to become one of only 11 Accredited Space Agents (ASA) in Australia. At present there are around 10 ASAs in Australia currently selling tickets and reserving places for the first 1,000 seats on the launch flight.
“Being apart of the first 1,000 is an amazing opportunity, it’s history!” says Tina Killeen, General Manager of Spencer Travel.
The trip itself involves two spacecraft, the Whiteknight2 and Spaceship2 motherships, which will both initially fly to 50,000 feet (note: normal aircraft fly at 30-40,000 feet). Then the mothership will release Spaceship2 where its rockets will ignite and throttle the craft through the air at an astonishing double the speed of sound.
At this point you will witness the sky changing from blue to purple and finally to black through the huge viewing platform. Once you break through the earth’s atmosphere, the rockets are switched off and you will experience the quiet and total weightlessness of being in space. The craft will idle for approximately five minutes where, while in zero gravity, you can view the curvature of the earth as well as space views of 1,000 kilometres in every direction. The craft will then start its re-entry process and you will find yourself soon gliding back down to earth.
Virgin Galactic are currently building a commercial Space Port in New Mexico, but for now maiden flights will take off from the original Space Port in the Mojave Desert of California.
At this stage, to secure one of the first 1,000 seats, you will be required to pay a deposit between US$20k-$175k. The first 100 seats will be snapped up by invited guests, with the very first voyage restricted to Sir Richard Branson and his family. The tickets will cost US$200k and will include a three-day training course at the Space Port as well as your flight into space.
The training course involves readying all participants for the feeling of the extreme G-Force pressure passengers will experience during take-off, as well as how to most effectively utilize their time when floating in zero-gravity.
All medical checks will also take place in the training facilities. At this point there are no pre-requisite medical or physical requirements to fly, however individual analysis will be undertaken and if staff find you are unable to complete the flight, your ticket will be fully refunded.
First flights are planned to go ahead at the end of 2009 or early 2010 pending final testing.