Space Travel Takes Giant Branson-Fueled Leap

space travel

Taking another step toward space travel for all, Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo lit its engine Monday, breaking the sound barrier high above California’s Mojave Air and Space port with billionaire Richard Branson on hand for the event.

“Today was the most significant day in the program,” Branson told NBC News. “I think that for those people who have been good enough to stick with us for the last eight years, who signed up early on, their time to become astronauts is very soon now … We’ll soon be able to make their dreams come true.”

Branson reportedly has 500 would-be space travelers signed up for the $200,000, two-hour flight that will include six minutes of weightlessness.

Confirming the flight and milestone accomplishment, Branson blogged:

“This is a momentous day and the single most important flight test to date for our Virgin Galactic program. What a feeling to be on the ground with all the team in Mojave to witness Virgin Galactic go faster than the speed of sound. It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system – the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years – and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle’s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year).”

On board the first flight with paying passengers will be Virgin frequent fliers, allowed to trade miles for a ride in space.

Virgin Galactic's First Rocket Powered Flight Breaks The Sound Barrier

[Photo credit -MarsScientific.com and Clay Center Observatory]

Virgin America’s Most Frequent Flier Will Get A Gratis Trip to Space

virgin america wingtipVirgin America is dangling the possibility of Virgin Galactic space travel in front of its most frequent fliers and Elevate reward members with a new promotion.

The Elevate member who earns the most status points between August 8, 2012, and August 7, 2013, will earn the ultimate round-trip flight reward: a sub-orbital space flight on Virgin Galactic. This is part of a series of membership enhancements timed to coincide with the airline’s fifth anniversary.

“We’re excited to add these new benefits to Elevate in response to direct feedback from our members,” added Phil Seward, director of guest loyalty at Virgin America. “We do not have a traditional legacy airline product … Offering a space flight as the ultimate frequent flyer reward seemed a fitting way to recognize our most loyal guest.”

What do you think – would you switch loyalty programs for the possibility of a space flight? If you’re really into the idea, a new promo will let you buy a flight on Virgin Galactic for a mere 2 million miles.

[Flickr via GlenFleishman]

Trade frequent flyer miles for space travel

frequent flyer milesBanking frequent flyer miles, business travelers save for travel gear, clothing, sports and recreation equipment, personal vacations and more. Now, Virgin Galactic is allowing their frequent flyers to trade miles for a ride in space.

Virgin Galactic plans to send its first spacecraft, SpaceShip Two, on a suborbital space flight later this year. In a lottery, Virgin Galactic is allowing their Atlantic Flying Club members to redeem miles for a chance to win a trip on a the spaceflight.

According to the terms and conditions of the drawing, “Once Virgin Galactic launches it’s first flight to space, Flying Club will draw a winner from all the entries received.” You don’t need to have two million miles to register for the drawing, but you will need to have the miles in your account if your entry is selected as the winner.

The price tag: two million miles.Short on miles?

Virgin Galactic will allow members to buy up to 30,000 miles for $27. At that rate, a ride in space has a value of $54,000, not a bad price compared to the $63 million that the Russian space agency charges NASA for a ride to the international Space Station.

Top 10 Coolest Movie Spaceships




Flickr photo by Deanster1983

Space Tourists: a cinematic journey to the ISS (w/ Audio Interview)

Space Tourists airs tonight on the Documentary Channel at 8pm & 11pm


When Anousheh Ansari boarded the International Space Station on September 20th, 2006, she became the first self-funded female, the first Iranian citizen, and the fourth human overall to enter the Earth’s orbit as a coveted ‘space tourist’.

After building and selling a large telecom business, Ansari had decided that she would pay over $20 million USD to take a ride on the Russian Soyuz TMA-9 and orbit Earth as a crew member of the International Space Station for 8 days. While training as a backup for Daisuke Enomoto, who failed to meet the required medical qualifications, Ansari was notified that her lifelong dream would be fulfilled – with only one month remaining before liftoff.

Meanwhile, without Ansari’s knowledge, a charismatic Swiss filmmaker had begun to collect material for a documentary that explored the peculiar circumstances of the Russian space tourism industry. Gathering footage at the Yuri Gagarin Cosmonaut Training Center in Star City, Russia and at the Baikonur Cosmodrome (the Soyuz’s launch facility), filmmaker Christian Frei began to lay the foundation for what would become the first documentary to uncover a highly exclusive and secretive world.

The finished product, Space Tourists, debuted in the US at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival. Thought it never had an overwhelming reception in North America, it is arguably one of the most fascinating travel-themed documentaries to have been produced in recent years and a must-see for anyone with a sense of adventure or a distant dream of venturing to space.

Frei’s film uncovers many facets of the Russian space tourism program that are especially compelling to watch unfold on the big screen.

From the pre-launch rituals at the Baikonur Cosmodrome, to the group of men that make a living by hunting down and recovering the enormous scrap metal that falls to Earth from every Soyuz launch; Frei’s film captures an incredible spectrum of physical environments, people/cultures, and brilliantly contrasts the magnificence of spaceflight in direct contrast with the trivial hardships of life on Earth.

It’s a film that’s both visually arresting and offers to bring the viewer on a journey with each of the characters that it follows – from training to touchdown and everywhere in between.

Space Tourists is currently being featured on the Documentary Channel airing tonight at 8pm and 11pm, or available on DVD via the Documentary Channel online store.

Click below for an exclusive, uncut interview with Anousheh Ansari & filmmaker Christian Frei:

Video of the Day – Flying over Earth on the ISS


If you haven’t seen this video since its emergence on the internet in the past two days, stop whatever you’re doing, plug in your best headphones, quit your other applications (so you can watch in silky smooth HD), and full-screen this amazing compilation of moving images.

Edited by Michael König, this time-lapse was created by stitching together a series of still images shot by astronauts Ron Garan, Satoshi Furukawa, and the crews of expeditions 28 & 29 onboard the International Space Station. Shot from an altitude of 350km between August and October 2011, the images were captured at 4K resolution with NASA’s Super-Sensitive High Definition TV system.

The imaging system picks up much more light than a normal HD camera is capable of, thus capturing a vivid look at the surface of the Earth and aurora borealis that’s unlike anything humanity has seen before.

Assuming that you don’t have $1 million to book an entire Virgin Galactic flight exclusively for your family, this video should be a pleasant placeholder until you get your finances in order. Until then, leave us a comment with a link to your favorite shots from the ground! It could be our next Photo/Video of the Day.