A health coach from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda has won two tickets worth nearly $1 million to be among Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists, the company said Wednesday.
Keisha Schahaff, 44, said she wanted to take the flight to Earth orbit with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student living in Britain who dreams of working for NASA one day.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised Schahaff with the news at her home in Antigua and Barbuda in early November.
“I thought I was doing a zoom interview,” she told AFP.
“When I saw Richard Branson walk in, I just started screaming! I couldn’t believe it.”
“As a little girl I was always interested in space,” she added. “This is a great opportunity for me to feel alive and just have the greatest adventure ever.”
Schahaff won the award after participating in a fundraiser organized by Virgin Galactic on the Omaze platform, raising $1.7 million.
The money will be donated to the NGO Space for Humanity, which is committed to wider access to space.
The amount she donated was not made public, but entry started with a minimum contribution of $10.
Schahaff, a health and energy coach who works primarily with women, decided to take a shot at the prize after seeing an ad on a Virgin Atlantic flight.
“I just filled out the application, did what was required…not realizing I would actually have gotten a response to it,” she said.
“I am very encouraged to inspire others to live their dream as well.”
The drive attracted nearly 165,000 participants in eight weeks, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
‘Equal access to space’
Wednesday’s announcement was meant to show that space tourism offers opportunities for a variety of people, despite prices remaining well out of reach for most.
“Giving people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn the opportunity to guide and inspire others back to Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been working towards for the past two decades,” said Branson.
The British twenty-seven-year-old flew into space on his company’s test mission in July, beating Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos in a matter of days in their billionaire space race.
Schahaff will be one of Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists, but her place in line has yet to be determined, a company spokesperson said.
Virgin Galactic has already pre-sold about 700 space tickets: 600 between 2005 and 2014 for up to $250,000 each, and another 100 since August, when they were relisted for $450,000.
Their goal is to sell a total of 1,000 before commercial flight launches, the first of which will take place at the end of 2022.
The proposed trip offers only a few minutes in weightlessness. A giant aircraft carrier takes off from a traditional airstrip with the spacecraft that looks like a large private jet, then releases it at a high altitude.
The spaceplane then ignites its own rocket motor until it is more than 50 miles (80 km) high — the limit of space, according to the US military — before gliding back to the runway.
Amazon founder Bezos’ company, Blue Origin, also offers suborbital flights, but aboard a rocket that takes off from the more traditional vertical position.
Blue Origin’s third manned flight is scheduled for early December.
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