While NASA’s Discovery made its final frontier into space on Friday, Virgin Galactic was inking its own space deal, this time substituting space tourists for scientists.
Southwest Research Institute, a nonprofit research organization, signed a deal with Virgin Galactic to conduct experiments in suborbital space. Two $200,000 tickets aboard the six-passenger SpaceShipTwo will be handed to Southwest scientists, who will conduct various scientific experiments during the flight.
In a statement obtained by Space.com:
“This agreement signals the enormous scientific potential of the Virgin spaceflight system,” Virgin Galactic president and CEO George Whitesides said in a statement. “Science flights will be an important growth area for the company in the years to come, building on the strong commercial success already demonstrated by deposits received from over 400 individuals for Virgin’s space experience.”
While no date for the commercial space flight has been set, the deal is already generating buzz. The scientist experiments onboard Virgin Galactic hold a value of about $1.6 million.
So, what exactly will the scientists be “experimenting”? The agreement will allow scientists to use SpaceShipTwo as a flying laboratory for experiments in weightlessness, biology, astronomy and climate research, officials said.
Alan Stern, one of the scientists who will be on board the flight, said: “Initially, two of our payload specialists will be flying on Virgin Galactic, conducting biomedical monitoring, atmospheric imaging, and microgravity planetary regolith experiments.”
So… kind of like an astronaut? God speed, scientists!