The Montgolfier brothers had Paris. The Wright brothers had Kill Devil Hills. Today, Richard Branson can officially call the New Mexican desert ‘home’ for his burgeoning commercial space line.
This morning, Governor of New Mexico Susana Martinez, Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides, and Richard Branson welcomed guests inside Spaceport America, to commemorate and christen the Spaceport’s main Terminal Hangar Facility as the ‘Virgin Galactic Gateway to Space’.
In front of a crowd of 800 journalists, future astronauts, and team members responsible for the design & construction of the VSS Enterprise, the spacecraft made a ‘captive carry’ fly-by with mothership White Knight II, before landing on the 10,000 ft. long runway and docking outside Spaceport America’s 47,000 sq. ft hangar.
As flight tests ramp up toward a speculative launch date in 2012 or early 2013, the Spaceport will now serve as the home base of operations for those working to make Virgin Galactic a reality; a date that for some, can’t come soon enough.
Over 400 passengers have already put down a deposit of $20,000 toward the $200,000 ticket price to be among the first tourists to venture into suborbital space. For these future astronauts, the experience is much more than just taking a trip to space.
At events like the one today, it’s a chance to network and be a part of an elite group that is helping Branson write the next chapter of aviation history. In some ways, it’s the ultimate traveler’s club – a chance of a lifetime for those that can afford to join. Future passengers from all across the globe come to events put on by Virgin Galactic to mingle with former NASA astronauts, politicians, and the Branson family.
Branson’s hope is that it won’t be long before tens of thousands of ordinary humans brave enough to make the trip will be able to afford the flights; and he will have helped forge an entirely new tourism industry.
When operations commence, which could be as soon as 2012 or 2013, passengers will go through a three day training experience at Spaceport America. They’ll undergo g-force testing, weightlessness simulations, and health checks to ensure that they’re fit enough to make the trip to 361,000 ft. Once aboard the 6-seater craft, they will experience up to 4g’s as they rocket toward an apogee inside the thermosphere, before experiencing up to 5 minutes of weightlessness.
There is still much to be done before the passenger experience in New Mexico is fully worked out, but Branson promises that it won’t disappoint. While Galactic has yet to prove itself as a full-fledged business, their customers are excited and there is a sense of enthusiasm from the company as they continue to expand an already impressive list of staff members.
The date on which we’ll witness a powered flight is still uncertain, but it seems as if Branson is determined to keep passing milestones on the way to the history books at a very steady rate; and now with a new home for Galactic, the only way forward is up.