IN MAY 2011, Virgin Galactic had its first feather flight test in Mojave, California. If you haven’t already ogled this on YouTube, give it a peek:
Space tourism is coming. So what can you expect as a traveler? Carolyn Wincer was kind enough to speak with me on behalf of Virgin Galactic on what travelers interested in leaving Earth might want to pack.
When Virgin Galactic becomes fully licensed, they’ll be working with two sets of regulations: one private, one government. “Weight is the biggest concern,” said Ms. Wincer. “Everything that goes into the ship has to be carefully controlled.”
While you can assume that regular TSA rules will apply here, there might be stricter guidelines on gadgets and other items due to the period of time during which you’ll experience weightlessness. Virgin Galactic has not established a complete set of regulations, but Ms. Wincer pointed out that as an example, certain types of cameras with pointed ends or sharp, detachable pieces may be prohibited.
“There’s no reason electronics won’t work for most of the flight,” Ms. Wincer reported. “I’d definitely take my iPod!” Again, there will be weight and size restrictions; but seriously, who needs their laptop in space?
iPhones, however, are a go. Talk about a Facebook status update that’ll have your friends dying of envy.
Virgin Galactic spaceships are fully pressurized, so there’s no need for pressure suits. The company will provide flight suits, which are still under design. And nothing too geeky. “They’re going to be very nice looking,” Ms. Wincer said with a laugh.
Ms. Wincer also recommended that the ladies take some lipstick on board. “You’ll be on camera the whole time, so make sure you look nice!” For those with glasses or contacts, it might be wise to bring an extra pair. Floating above the planet with a view hardly anyone will ever get to witness is not the time for a torn contact lens.
From takeoff to landing, a Virgin Galactic flight will last between 90 and 105 minutes. The actual launch into space lasts between 80 and 90 seconds, as does re-entry. You’ll get to experience four minutes of weightlessness.
The ship holds six passengers and two pilots and is similar in size to a Falcon 900 executive jet. And no fighting over the window seat – each passenger will be next to one side window, with an additional window overhead.
There’s no food served during the flight, although you may be able to bring some champagne to toast the moment. Virgin Galactic will be feeding passengers before their flight, as well as throwing them a party upon arrival back on Earth.
How and when can I go?
Booking information and the process itself are available on the Virgin Galactic website. Tickets are $200,000, with deposits starting at $20,000. The company employs highly trained and accredited space agents all over the world; check this map to find one near you.
Right now, Virgin is continuing with flight testing and simply working “from milestone to milestone,” said Ms. Wincer. “We’re focused on safety, so we don’t want to set a firm date yet. But the first flight will hopefully be within the next few years.”
[Editor’s note: Read this post in the new Space Destination Center at travora.com.]