In a recent article for USA Today, I interviewed some of the men and women who will be among Virgin Galactic’s first commercial space travelers. Some of them are doing it because they remember the excitement of the 1969 moon landing. Others are doing it because they seek the ultimate bucket list moment, or because they want to set an example for their young daughters. Whatever their reasons, when billionaire business magnate Richard Branson announced his goal to take Average Joes into space as frequently and affordably as the average airline, these people scrambled to pay up to $250,000 for the opportunity to float for five minutes above the Earth.
“When I was growing up, going to space was one of those ineffable experiences you could only conceptualize,” Marcia Fiamengo told me in an interview. “I used to dream about it, about floating in zero gravity. Now I can’t wait to get an all-consuming perspective of Earth and the stars. It will be quite a view.”
By the time my article went to press, there was no set date for Virgin Galactic’s first takeoff. But a recent article said that the company has pushed its first launch off until August, 2014, a delay that could cost the state of New Mexico millions. Delays aside, Branson recently reached a deal with NBC to create a reality series called “Space Race,” which would follow contestants competing to win a flight into space with the nascent carrier. No word yet on when that show might air, or when the winner might fly. Under the circumstances, that winner will join a list of nearly 700 customers (among them pop star Rihanna, socialite Paris Hilton and physicist Stephen Hawking) who are eager to take the next small step into space.