READY, FIRE, AIM: Space, the last frontier of tourism

I was once a child with a dream watching the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship staring at our beautiful Earth… To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do it, imagine what you can do…

– from Sir Richard Branson’s Twitter account, July 11, 2021.

About ten years ago, businessman and billionaire Richard Branson was nicknamed “Knight of the British Empire” during an investiture at Buckingham Palace, and thus became “Sir Richard Branson”. I imagine it was an interesting experience… having a razor sharp sword bounce first off one shoulder, then the other… inches from your juggler’s vein. The sword had once belonged to King George VI, when, as Duke of York, he was Colonel of the Scots Guards. It was brandished on this occasion, however, by Charles Prince of Wales.

Fortunately, the 5 minute ceremony went off without a hitch and Sir Richard survived to tell the tale.

How did the experience compare to Sir Richard’s 5-minute flight into “space” on July 11, 2021? Perhaps theft will be more dramatically in his memory? There are literally hundreds of British subjects who are ennobled each year. But Sir Richard seems to have been the first billionaire to fly in “space”.

Sir Richard Branson started a company called Virgin as a mail order record retailer in 1970, then founded Virgin Records. After Virgin’s lead artist Mike Oldfield released “Tubular Bells,” Virgin Records continued to sign household names from the Sex Pistols to the Rolling Stones. Today there are more than 40 Virgin companies around the world, in more than 35 countries.

Here is a photo of the Unity 22 spacecraft, moments after the start of its 5 minute “space” excursion. As we can see, it was also the first time that a company logo made the trip to “space”.

You may have noticed that I am putting the word “space” in parentheses for a reason, which will be explained in a moment.

Why Sir Richard chose New Mexico as the location for Spaceport America, I couldn’t find out. We have a lot of the great outdoors here in Colorado, and probably more tourists.

And we love mountain bikes. Sir Richard rode a mountain bike (similar to the type we love here in Colorado) to spaceport on the morning of his flight. He was escorted by two white Range Rovers. Range Rover, a sub-brand of British automaker Jaguar-Land Rover, helped sponsor the theft on July 11, as did the state of New Mexico. (Governor Polis, did you sleep?)

Like all of us, Sir Richard seems concerned about climate change … and cycling to the spaceport on the morning of his flight has undoubtedly helped offset the millions of tonnes of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere, until ‘now. , by Virgin Atlantic Airline, and now, by space vehicles built by Virgin Galactic.

Unlike the more utilitarian spacecraft designed by billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, which uses the old-fashioned rocket-based system developed by the Nazis during WWII, Sir Richard’s spacecraft uses the “spaceship” system. -mother “- a large, three-winged plane that carries the Unity spacecraft to an altitude of about 46,000 feet (about 8 miles high, for all” Byrds “fans in the audience), then unleashes the plane / rocket looking for “Buck Rogers” to continue making its way to a height of about 50 miles above the earth’s surface.

When NASA was managing space trips here in the United States, it liked the idea of ​​compact “space capsules”. It worked well for scientific / military purposes, when pilots were used to the cramped accommodations of military planes. But we’ve gone way beyond science, folks. Space is now the last frontier of tourism. And tourists – especially very wealthy tourists – don’t want to be crammed into a space capsule. They want a luxurious experience inside a ship that reminds them of their private Lear Jet. Lots of windows. Room to float in a First Class Zero Gravity cabin, without bumping into it.

And maybe, a half-minute Twitter video share with friends?

(They actually collided. But no one was hurt.)

Sir Richard went all out on July 11 with a well-produced streaming video production – which you can see here – co-hosted by actor Stephen Colbert and “Structural Operations Engineer and Co-Host” Veronica McGowen. M. Colbert was slightly funny; Ms McGowen delivered a compelling and gushing sales pitch for future Virgin Galactic sightseeing flights.

The Virgin Tourist Transport reached an altitude of about 183,000 feet on July 11, or about 53 miles above sea level, before slowly turning around and beginning its descent to land. At this point, Sir Richard was supposed to broadcast a message to us earthlings, but due to technical difficulties, the billionaire was unable to share his feelings. So we had to use our imaginations.

Did Sir Richard and his three traveling companions really go to “space”? Well, yes and no. Depends on who you ask. International law defines “space” as beginning at the altitude where a conventional aircraft can no longer be supported by the atmosphere. It’s about 62 miles high. But the US military defines “space” as starting at an altitude of 80 km. (No one knows why.) So, according to the US military, Sir Richard and his Unity 22 team can now claim the title of “astronaut.” (As long as they stay in the United States.)

So then: billionaire astronaut Sir Richard Branson.

To really leave the Earth’s atmosphere, you have to go back more than 600 miles. But who matters?

It appears that over 600 people have already reserved their seats on future Virgin Galactic flights, with an initial advertised price of $ 250,000 to secure a seat. There is no doubt that the price will eventually drop.

Looking at the future of “space flight” from a local perspective, this successful little excursion bodes well for Pagosa Springs. We would love to see some of our summer tourists soar into space.

Or at least, what they call, space.

Louis Canon

Louis Canon

The underrated writer Louis Cannon grew up in the vast American West, though his ex-wife, at the slightest opportunity, denies ever growing up.

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