One former RAF pilot's lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut might actually come to fruition after he was tapped by Sir Richard Branson to become chief pilot for Virgin Galactic, Branson's $200,000 per ticket sub-orbital "commercial" spacecraft enterprise. The "VSS Enterprise" -- named after the famed Star Trek Enterprise -- is expected to make its virgin voyage in roughly 18 months time, delivering Branson along with his family and over 400 passengers into 60 plus miles above the earth's atmosphere.
According to the Sunday Telegraph day, Dave Mackay, who'd long dreamed of space-travel will reach a cruising altitude of around 50,000 feet then literally fire up rockets to launch the Enterprise an additional 300,000 feet into space at 3.5 times the speed of sound. The passengers, allegedly, will be flattened into their seats before eventually experiencing "zero gravity."
Mackay spoke to the Sunday Telegraph about his cream come true:
“I was a frustrated astronaut all my life,” said Mr Mackay. “I had grown up at a time when space seemed to have no boundaries and lot of us presumed humans would be living on the Moon and landing on Mars. At the time, it seemed very disappointing to realise that wasn’t going to happen.
“So what’s happening out here in the Mojave now shows that dreams do come true and you should never give up on them. This really feels like the new frontier of flight.”
He is scheduled to be the first pilot to deliver the memorable in-flight announcement informing passengers that they have reached the weightless world of zero gravity more than 62.5 miles above the earth - the 100 km altitude widely recognised as the start of space.
Asked how he will phrase that historic message, he said: “Oh I imagine I’ll say: ’Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to space. You are now free to float around the cabin’.”
The Enterprise will depart from a sophisticated commercial spaceport based in New Mexico. Of the 440 people already paid up for the space-flight, many include celebrities such as Russell Brand, Katy Perry, Victoria Principal and Professor Stephen Hawking.
Saddened by the end of the U.S. Space Shuttle program, Mackay believes Virgin Galactic's prgram is an "opportunity" for the commercial world to step in where NASA left off.
“The big discovery for me was how much fun it was,” he said. “At one stage, my feet were in the roof of the plane. I felt like a kid and I just couldn’t stop giggling.”
If given the chance, would you like to hop a plane to space?
Below is a video of the Virgin Galactic "feather flight":
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/v/Er9-sTDhJ58?version=3&hl=en_US expand=1]
(H/T: The Telegraph)