A health coach from Antigua and Barbuda has won two tickets worth nearly $1 million to be among Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists — and is planning the trip of a lifetime with her teenage daughter.
Keisha Schaaf, 44, said she wants to cross the final frontier with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student who lives in Britain and dreams of one day working at NASA.
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised Schaff with the news at her Caribbean home in early November.
“I thought I was doing an enlarged interview,” she told AFP.
“When I saw Richard Branson walking inside, I just started screaming! I couldn’t believe it.”
“I’ve always been interested in space when I was a little girl,” she added. “This is a great opportunity for me to feel alive and take on the greatest adventure ever.”
Schaaf won the prize after entering a fundraising sweepstakes organized by Virgin Galactic on the Omaze platform, which raised $1.7 million.
The money will be donated to the non-governmental group Space for Humanity, which works for broader access to space.
The amount you donated has not been announced, but entry began with a contribution of at least $10.
Schaff, a health and energy coach who works specifically with women, decided to take home an award after seeing an ad on a Virgin Atlantic cruise.
“I just filled out the application, and did what was required … and didn’t realize I was actually going to get a response to it,” she said.
“I am so encouraged to inspire others to live their dreams too.”
In a statement, Virgin Galactic said the campaign attracted nearly 165,000 participants in eight weeks.
Equal access to space
Wednesday’s announcement aims to show that space tourism opens up opportunities for a diverse group of people, even though prices remain out of reach for most people.
“The ability to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and thus the opportunity to lead and inspire others on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been working on over the past two decades,” Branson said.
The British septuagenarian flew on a test mission for his company into space in July, beating Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos within days in the billionaire space race.
A company spokesperson said Schaaf will be among the first space tourists on Virgin Galactic, but her place in the line has yet to be determined.
Virgin Galactic has already sold about 700 space tickets: 600 between 2005 and 2014 for up to $250,000 apiece, and another 100 since August, when it was relisted for $450,000.
Their goal is to sell 1,000 in total before launching commercial flights, the first of which is scheduled for late 2022.
The proposed flight offers a few minutes in zero gravity. A giant carrier plane takes off from a traditional runway carrying the spaceship, which looks like a large private jet, and then launches it to a very high altitude.
The space plane then ignites its rocket engine until it exceeds 50 miles (80 kilometers) above sea level — the space minimum, according to the US military — before sliding back onto the runway.
Blue Origin, founder of Amazon Bezos, offers sub-orbital flights, but on a rocket that takes off from a traditional vertical position.
Blue Origin’s third manned flight is scheduled for early December.
Meanwhile, SpaceX sent Elon Musk four tourists on a three-day orbital mission around Earth in September.
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