Lusting after those white sands and warm weather daiquiris? Forget about it. You can do that any old time. How about taking a vacation … to space? That’s right, it’s actually possible thanks to the space travel innovations of (who else?) Virgin Galactic.
Founded in 2004 by visionary Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic offers suborbital space flights to would-be astronauts the world over. Initial launch of the program was delayed several times, but it seems on track for star-soaring greatness in the near-term.
What does space travel with Virgin Galactic entail?
Sad to say, you won’t be stepping on the moon. You will, however, experience micro-gravity (i.e. you’ll get to float in the spaceship’s main cabin) and experience three-and-a-half Gs of force on your way to the stars, then suck it in as you sail back down to earth.
The start of your adventure is relatively benign: a normal takeoff that leads to a rocket-power ascent to the skies. When weightlessness starts to hit, the rocket will shut off, giving you the chance to survey the glowing earth below as you bob about in almost zero-gravity conditions. After a few minutes, the spacecraft will change configuration in preparation for descent, then make its way back through the many ‘spheres until you land, safe and sound, on earth.
Does the flight require training?
Yes. Even though you won’t be wading in the Sea of Tranquility, you will need to check off some important boxes — including physical fitness. Onsite training at the Virgin Galactic facility will ensure you are safe while in orbit and are prepared to enjoy every second of your trip.
One example of your training: The iconic centrifugal spinning pod that gives you a sense of the speed (and pressure) of launch. As Chief Instructor Beth Moses explains, the force of the machine at its highest speed makes you feel uncomfortably compressed — until the speed turns off and you experience the liberating weightlessness for the first time.
Moses also hammers home a key part of flight success most don’t think of: operating as a team. It’s necessary for everyone to work together, she advocates — not only to guarantee a safe flight, but an enjoyable one. This is emphasized during Virgin Galactic’s onsite training.
What kind of ship will I fly?
The spaceflight system used to propel travelers to suborbital space comes in two parts: the WhiteKnightTwo, which is responsible for the initial takeoff; and SpaceShipTwo, which ultimately launches into space. Both are reusable.
WhiteKnightTwo boasts four engines and two fuselages designed to carry the SpaceShipTwo up to about 50,000 feet. With a catamaran design, the plane is able to carry wide-bodied ships of significant payload while not dragging to its target altitude.
The SpaceShipTwo, on the other hand, is powered by a hybrid rocket motor that uniquely changes shape at different points in the flight to adjust to changing conditions. Most notably, the wings and tail rotate prior to re-entry to resemble feathers; this helps control the rate of deceleration during descent.
And how much does it cost?
To register for a future flight, you must pay a flat fee of $1,000 (fully refundable). This puts you next in line for a call when seats become available. The full bottom line, however, is a bit steeper. Actual prices were hard to find, though Virgin did indicate the total cost would likely be more than $250,000 per person.
When is the next flight?
Launch dates are not published due to Virgin Galactic’s dependence on ongoing developments, improvements, and various other factors. They do promise to stay in regular contact with registrants, however.
Can I fly SpaceX for cheaper?
Nope. While Elon Musk’s dedicated team is working intently on making its passenger-first Dragon system ready for launch in the near future, no dates or prices have been published that we’re aware of.
Find out more about the space travel exploits of Virgin Galactic at virgingalactic.com.