Citizens of Earth, your time has come.
Virgin Galactic, the commercial space travel venture spearheaded by billionaire mogul Richard Branson, plans to launch its inaugural flight this spring. The 2-hour journey will blast six passengers and two pilots nearly 70 miles into the sky, experiencing 3-to-5 minutes of weightlessness before turning back and landing at the company’s Spaceport in New Mexico.
The flight costs $250,000 per passenger. So far, Virgin has sold 680 tickets and collected $80 million in deposits.
All but the wealthiest few will be excluded from this opportunity for the time being, but such ventures can’t help but reignite a childlike sense of wonder in the rest of us. To think that such journeys might be commonplace one day is the stuff of science fiction. Pending FAA approval, Branson and company will soon be one step closer to making it a reality.
But in the meantime, your imagination will have to suffice. Here are the defining images of Virgin Galactic, the company that may someday take you to outer space.
1. This is your ship:
It consists of two main components. The first is WhiteKnightTwo, the carrier plane that takes off from the runway and guides your vessel 47,000 feet into the sky. The second is SpaceShipTwo, the actual rocket ship. SS2 is docked to WK2’s underbelly until they reach the launch altitude, where SS2 is released, drops, and then blasts you into the atmosphere.
2. This is your port:
It’s called Spaceport America. It is located in the New Mexico desert, and cost about $212 million to build. You will take off and land here.
3. This is your training:
Passengers, or “astronauts,” will have to undergo zero gravity exercises to prepare for weightlessness.
4. This is your booking fee:
And it’s a back breaker. If it’s any consolation, benefits include gatherings hosted by Richard Branson “at his private island in the Caribbean, game reserve in South Africa, chalet in the Swiss Alps and estate in the Atlas Mountains in Morocco.”
5. This is your pep talk:
William Pomerantz is the Vice President for Special Projects at Virgin Galactic. His inspiring words are a reminder of why humans are drawn to exploring the stars.
6. This is your party. You can cry if you want to:
That’s Virgin Galactic pilot Mike “Sooch” Sacucci getting an ice bath in celebration of a successful SpaceShipTwo test flight. If you’re lucky, you might get one, too.
7. This is your home (for about 2 hours):
A diagram of SpaceShipTwo’s interior.
8. This is your flight plan:
A detailed trajectory of your journey into space. Click here for the interactive version, courtesy of NBC.
9. This is the press release:
A CNN Money report announcing Virgin Galactic’s plans to begin commercial space flights in 2014.
10. These are SpaceShipTwo’s first three test flights. One:
They were filmed between April 2013 and Jan. 2014, using multiple HD cameras. All of them are powerful documents, but number three is especially awe-inspiring.
13. This is your “welcome home” greeter:
Maybe. If you’re lucky.
All told, you may finally be ready for your first trip into space. Bon voyage!