Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise flies first solo run

The world is one step closer to the era of space tourism after an historic flight in the Mojave desert yesterday.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceship Enterprise took its first solo flight, detaching from the mothership Eve and landing on its own power.

Enterprise can carry six passengers and two crew. The mothership Eve carries Enterprise up into the sky before the Enterprise detaches and ignites its rocket, shooting it above the atmosphere and into space, but not high enough to achieve orbit. The rocket was not fired on this test flight and no passengers were on board. The crew consisted of pilots Pete Siebold and Mike Alsbury, who flew for 25 minutes before landing.

More than three hundred people have already signed up to take a suborbital ride on the Enterprise once it becomes operational. Rides cost $200,000 each and are scheduled to start in about eighteen months.

The British owner of Virgin, Sir Richard Branson, watched the test. The success of the operation came as good news after Virgin Galactic’s financial difficulties.

Would you fly into space if you had the money? Tell us what you think in the comments section!

Video of the week (3.26.10)

The Video of the Week for this week shows the first flight of White Night Two while carrying the Virgin Galactic “Enterprise” spacecraft. The flight took place just three days ago and is the latest step toward operating commercial passenger space flights in 2011.

Gadling was there when they unveiled SpaceShipTwo under very stormy skies. But they couldn’t have had a more beautiful day to accomplish this test flight. I can’t imagine what it’s like to sit in the far right side of the giant aircraft. Landing just a few feet from the right side of the runway must take some getting used to. According to a comment on the video, the left side may be used to take observers of the launch in the future. This could be nearly as exciting as going on a launch itself.

As for the experience of travelling weightless over California for a few minutes, would you join the over 330 people who have put down deposits on the $200,000 flights? Virgin Galactic claims another 80,000 people are on the waiting list.

So, if money were no object, would you take a ride?


Will the Toyota recall affect your next car rental?

Toyota‘s massive recall due to faulty accelerator pedals is trickling down into car-rental companies. How does the recall affect your next rental?

I checked in with some of the major players to see how they’re handling the recall, now estimated at more than 9 million worldwide.

Avis Budget: About 20,000 cars have been grounded due to the recall. “Our fleet is 7 percent smaller today, but we are receiving weekly deliveries of new vehicles from the purchase agreements we made months ago with our suppliers,” Avis Budget spokesperson John Barrows told me via e-mail. “So we expect to be able to fulfill all demand for any rental occasion while we await guidance from Toyota regarding the handling of the recalled vehicles.”

Dollar Thrifty: The recall represents less than 1.5 percent of the overall Dollar Thrifty fleet. “We have currently grounded the vehicles and are working with Toyota on inspection of the vehicles and a proper resolution of the issue. We do not have any significant Toyotas on order,” Scott Thompson, president and CEO of Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, said in a written statement.

Zipcar: Toyota’s recall affects about 5 percent of the Zipcar fleet. The car-sharing company isn’t taking new reservations on any recalled vehicles, which include the 2009 and 2010 Toyota Matrix. If you already have a reservation on a Toyota Matrix, Zipcar will move you to a different car and compensate you for any rate difference. If you’d rather bail, any cancellation fees will be waived. For questions about upcoming reservations, call Member Services at 866/494-7227.

The silver lining: Many car-rental companies, such as Avis, Budget, Dollar, and Thrifty, only let you reserve a certain vehicle class (compact/economy, mid-size, full-size). Since you weren’t able to specify a make/model to begin with, at least you won’t have to deal with re-booking because the car you wanted is suddenly unavailable.

In general, car-rental companies had already been shrinking its fleets, which was resulting in higher prices. We’ll keep an eye on how this will affect pricing now that the supply is even smaller. I’ll also update once I hear back from Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, and National.

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (Photos)

December 7th, 2009; there’s a good chance it won’t be remembered as a milestone in history. But it can certainly be marked as a major stepping stone in the human endeavor of space exploration.

At roughly 5.30pm on Monday evening, Richard Branson, Burt Rutan, Governor Schwarzenegger and New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson proudly rolled out Virgin Galactic’s first test flight ready spacecraft. After the dramatic unveiling, the sub-orbital, eight passenger vehicle was promptly christened as the VSS Enterprise – a homage to a handful of historical vessels that have shared the same name.

The entire event was done in true Branson fashion – lights, music, and plenty of beautiful people. Over 800 press, crew and “future astronauts” were in attendance, despite high winds and occasional snow flurries at the remote Mojave Spaceport.

Full photo coverage after the break.

Governors Bill Richardson and Arnold Schwarzenegger were on site to emphasize their appreciation of Virgin Galactic’s venture; all future test flights will be performed in 2010 out of Mojave, California and the first official launches will take place at Spaceport America, in New Mexico. Governor Richardson has made a large investment in bringing this new industry to his state, and even called for President Obama to make a bigger investment in the future of space tourism.

The crowd in attendance was dominated by citizens that have already set down the full $200,000 deposit to secure their flights into space; a diverse group of enthusiasts that ranges from the wealthiest of entrepreneurs to humble schoolteachers.


After the press conference, the crowd gathered on the chilly Mojave Spaceport runway to witness the rolling out of SpaceShipTwo, carried by Virgin MotherShip Eve. The event was cut short however, due to high wind advisories in the area that threatened the lavish, inflatable domes and tent structures set up by Virgin Galactic for the event.

Critics claim that since the VSS Enterprise will only be making sub-orbital flights, humans are still a long way off from lengthy space travel. The current power that the craft is capable of will need to be scaled up to nearly 60 times before full orbital potential is possible.

Nonetheless, Virgin promises that the first flights aboard the craft will be an experience unlike any other – with full 3-day training sessions for all passengers and over 6 minutes of complete weightlessness on the flights. The development also opens up the floodgates for future progression in rapid inter-continental travel and cost efficient methods of putting satellites or heavy equipment in space.

As spacecraft designer Burt Rutan has said, “We need affordable space travel to inspire our youth, to let them know that they can experience their dreams, can set significant goals and be in a position to lead all of us to future progress in exploration, discovery and fun.”

Virgin Galactic has undoubtedly launched us into that exciting period; but while the VSS Enterprise may not be mankind’s leap into full-orbital spaceflights, it’s certainly the necessary stepping stone for space tourism and proof that private groups have the capability and support to forever change our perception of travel.

For more information about booking flights into space, you can check out Virgin Galactic’s website, or Virtuoso’s select list of Accredited Space Agents.

How Enterprise goes green – in a big way

Green is finally “in” – you no longer have to grow a beard and wear socks made from recycled cardboard boxes and corn husks to do your part in helping the environment.

Even when you are on the road, it is quite easy to help out. Some car rental companies jumped on board the green train ages ago by offering renters the option of a hybrid vehicle.

Enterprise, (the parent company of Alamo, Enterprise and National rent-a-car) took being green one step further, and introduced the largest fleet of hybrid vehicles in the country.

In total, 5000 gas/electric hybrids are available from Enterprise branches, and 80 locations were designated “hybrid branches” where a high concentration of hybrid vehicles are available.

In addition to this, the company also offers a whopping 73,000 vehicles that are capable of running on the E85 ethanol blend.

Green renters can take things one step further by adding a $1.25 carbon offset option to rental agreements. This has been so successful that it was recently named the most popular consumer opt-in offset program in the industry.

Instead of relying on others to develop new technologies, Enterprise is also investing $25 Million in renewable fuels research and helping educate drivers on some basic tips on how to drive “green”.