It is around this time of year that you sit and decide in which country you’re going to sit on the beach and sunburn on, or which city you want to wander around for the weekend. You may even decide to board the WhiteKnight and exit the Earth’s atmosphere for a while. This may sound odd, but it’s completely possible, and they’re taking applications now.
(Source: Virgin Galactic)
It all started on October 2004, when the company, Scaled Composites, won a global competition to design the SpaceShipOne, a craft capable of carrying paying and ordinary people into space. This inspired Sir Richard Branson of Virgin, to partner up to create the Virgin Galactic and Scaled’s, first-ever commercial spaceline.
The WhiteKnight is the aircraft that carries the newly trained astronauts to ~50,000 feet, which is at the edge of earth’s atmosphere (the Kármán line), at this altitude, the detachable SpaceShipTwo craft rockets into action at 3.5 times the speed of sound and through into space. Once here, you’ll experience the typical floaty, no-gravity part…for four minutes, before you re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, and land back at the spaceport in New Mexico, America.
Before the flight, six successful applicants receive three days special training, and pre-flight testing, including health checks that may exclude them from flying. They also learn basic emergency response training, as it is nowhere near “perfectly safe”. Along with the normal risk of flying, there are additional problems that astronauts have to deal with. These include the force of gravity on the body, vertical climbs associated with sickness, and dizziness, problems with deceleration, and heating on re-entry, and the fact that there hasn’t actually been a commercial flight yet. Up to now, there has only been test flights, in which there has been multiple accidents that resulted in the death of two experienced pilots. Research flights have also been carried out by other companies using Virgin Galactic’s technology for objects like satellites. These companies are also one of the ways Virgin Galactic has funded current and future developments of their projects, and crafts.
However, as exciting as this sounds, in reality you’d be paying $250,000 (~£180,000) for four minutes in space, and even then only six applicants will be successful once they have been through various processes including questions such as: what are your motivations to go into space?. Not only this, but you’d be competing with thousands of other applicants for this risky seat to space.
Although, right now this doesn’t seem like the ideal family getaway, it’s the start of what Virgin Galactic hopes to be a unique industry to provide ‘space tourists’ an indescribable experience of staring at the Earth’s curved horizons, contrasting against the blackness of space to ordinary people, and future plans to operate spaceports in Sweden, and Scotland have been announced. However, this is all in the future considering there hasn’t actually been a commercial space flight yet.