Commercial space travel takes flight

Mary Gillis


Before the 1960’s, space travel was just an idea, a mere fantasy. Then it became reality when there was “One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”  It was the rare trip only for scientific purposes by professional astronauts. Now there is a whole new kind of space travel; commercial.

Sir Richard Branson, the owner and founder of Virgin Galactic didn’t want the most common dream occupation of every first grader to be crushed. He has recently developed a plan for commercial flights to space. In other words, any average Joe with 200,000 dollars to spare can go into space for 90 minutes, 62 miles above the earth.

The trip requires three days of training sessions prior to the flight. Training involves g-force exercises in a centrifuge and zero-g preparation in a parabolic flight. There is a medical examination, although Virgin Galactic will not prevent a person from going unless they are seriously at risk. Training is held at one of the two launching bases in either California or Florida, to better familiarize the passenger to the area. Educational information about the aircraft and the flight itself are also available for the passenger.

The technology for the endeavor was developed by Burt Rutan.

“Just like when early airplanes were flying in 1910, we didn’t know what the benefits are, but we were doing it because it was fun,” Rutan said on CNN.

Rutan’s company, Scaled Composites, is located in Mojave, California, which may be a launching base in the near future.

To take off, the aircraft has to reach 2,500 miles per hour, three times the speed of sound. The boom from this giant force can be heard for miles while taking off and it is dramatically contrasted to the deafening silence that is heard just moments after reaching zero gravity. When the craft takes off, the ship is connected to the “mother ship,” also called WhiteKnightTwo, built by Scaled Composites. The ship will go up to 50,000 feet above the Earth’s surface. Once it reaches that point, the craft, carrying two pilots and six lucky passengers, will start up the hybrid rocket and detach from the WhiteKnightTwo to continue on and look at Earth from space while experiencing the pleasures of zero gravity for about six minutes.

According Virgin Galactic’s website, the most fascinating part of the trip is the first glance out of, what seems like, the looking glass into the future. This mere realization that there are actually other planets and vast emptiness out there is said to be one of the most emotional experiences of a life time.

Virgin Galactic plans to fly out in about a year or two, making 2010 or 2011 a years that will go down in history as a changing point in technology and space travel in general. It is difficult to see the full affects of space travel on the this generation. Right now the list of people in line for the experience includes 250 people, among them A-list celebrities like Paris Hilton, Tom Hanks, Brad Pitt, and Madonna, all waiting for the new adventure.         

Virgin Galactic hopes to have commercial flights once a week. Seeing as this has never before been attempted, the chances of it working out are uncertain. If space travel does become successful and eventually relatively “cheap,” who knows what the effects will be? This new trend could be the spark for other innovations, bringing entertainment to a whole new level and raising the bar for technology. If commercial flights become a casual occurrence, the future of society’s dream vacation could forever change, making a weekend at the beach seem boring and a trip to space the classic retreat.