The World’s First Spaceline
Okay, so your spaceship isn’t quite ready for take-off yet—it’s still in the development and testing stages—but if you want to be one of the first 500 people to get onboard, a future trip with Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial spaceline, should be on your radar now. Since 2005, when the $200,000 pioneer tickets initially went on sale, nearly 300 have been sold.
The idea for Virgin Galactic, a company created by travel aficionado and entrepreneur Richard Branson, got off the ground a year earlier—along with the historic flight of SpaceShipOne. The world’s first privately developed and funded manned spacecraft, designed and built by Burt Rutan and Scaled Composites, made three successful voyages into space in 2004, reaching altitudes higher than 100km (62 miles) and winning a $10-million prize for its accomplishment.
Branson quickly snatched up the exclusive rights to Rutan’s innovative technology—including carbon composite materials, a hybrid rocket motor, and a wing feathering reentry system. Through Virgin Galactic, he plans to combine Rutan’s advanced design measures with Virgin’s aviation, adventure, and luxury experience to lead the way into space tourism. His goal is to launch non-astronauts into suborbit on a spacecraft known as SpaceShipTwo.
Once SpaceShipTwo is approved for lift-off, your Star Wars–like journey will go something like this: You begin with 3 days of preflight training at the spaceport, intended to introduce you to your crew and fellow passengers as you learn how to navigate a zero-gravity environment. After all preparations are complete, and the morning of your journey has arrived, your adrenaline is pumping as the pilot begins an official countdown . . . 3, 2, 1 . . . blastoff!
Your spaceship catches a ride on its “mothership,” a specially designed carrier aircraft, for about 15km/15,240m (10 miles/50,000 ft.) before an unimaginable burst of power pins you back into your seat as you accelerate to speeds of nearly 4,025kmph (2,500 mph) in mere seconds. Suddenly, you’re traveling at more than three times the speed of sound, hurtling away from the earth’s surface, watching the atmosphere transform from blue to black. Finally, the motor shuts off around 110km/109,728m (68 miles/360,000 ft.) and you’re engulfed in silence. You realize you’re floating, completely weightless. Maybe you try a somersault. When you glance out the window again, your eyes open wider to take in the scene you’ve seen before only in NASA photographs: You’re staring at the earth’s curve.
Before you know it, gravity returns and it’s time to head back toward home. Lying down, you feel a powerful drag as the atmosphere’s force returns. But then the feathering system kicks in and you gracefully glide back to the earth’s surface.
This new adventure will be a historic chance to explore virgin territory. Until the dream trip becomes a reality, keep your excitement level high with a visit to SpaceShipOne—now on display next to Charles Lindbergh’s Spirit of St. Louis airplane at the Smithsonian Institute’s Air and Space Museum in Washington, D.C. You can also check VirginGalactic.com for updates on SpaceShipTwo’s progress.
Virgin Galactic (www.virgingalactic.com).
* Space flights initially depart from Mojave Air and Space Port in Mojave, California, but eventually take off from Spaceport America in Las Cruces, New Mexico.