A Caribbean mom and her 18-year-old daughter who won free rides aboard Virgin Galactic will embark on their out-of-this-world adventure when the commercial flight is expected to blast off Thursday.
Keisha Schahaff, 46, and Anastasia Mayers won the two coveted seats — worth $900,000 — in 2021 as part of a Virgin Galactic’ competition aiming to “send more diverse humans to space and change perspectives”
Virgin CEO Richard Branson surprised Schahaff, a mother of two, at her home in Antigua with the tickets.
The health coach and her daughter will become the first Caribbean natives to venture to outer space.
Mayers will also become the second-youngest person to reach space. Oliver Daemen was also 18 when he flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicle in July 2021.
The pair will board the VSS Unity on Thursday, which will take off from a launch site in New Mexico at 8 a.m. local time (11 a.m. Eastern time) and make a 90-minute trip into space in an expedition dubbed Galactic 02.
Joining Schahaff and Mayers will be former 80-year-old Jon Goodwin, a former Olympic canoeist from Britain who suffers from Parkinson’s disease,
Goodwin, who was diagnosed with the disease in 2014, will be only the second person with Parkinson’s to fly to space, Virgin Galactic said.
There will be three other passenger on board — all of them Virgin Galactic employees, including the company’s chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer.
Moses is set to be in the VSS Unity’s cabin alongside Schahaff, Mayers and Goodwin while Sturckow and Latimer will be at the vehicle’s controls, serving as commander and pilot, respectively.
Schahaff, Mayers and Goodwin are currently partaking in Virgin Galactic’s “Readiness Journey Program,” which trains its astronauts to be “physically, mentally and spiritually ready for space,” the company’s site says.
Schahaff has been documenting her preparations on social media. In her most recent update posted on Sunday, Schahaff shared that she and her daughter arrived in New Mexico.
The spaceflight will mark Virgin Galactic’s second-ever commercial trip to space after the space tourism company successfully launched a team of Italian researchers into orbit in June.
Similarly to the first flight, Galactic 02 will employ a carrier plane, called WhiteKnightTwo, which will transport VSS Unity to about 50,000 feet up — when the “mother ship” will separate from VSS Unity as its onboard rocket motor propels the astronauts to suborbital space.
Once VSS Unity reaches outer space, the passengers will feel a few minutes of weightlessness and once-in-a-lifetime views of the Earth.
Since the initial flight was successful, Virgin Galactic has been offering monthly flights since July, though a backlog of passengers has already reached 800, meaning some aspiring astronauts will have to wait years to teeter on the edge of space.
The demand for extreme space travel has caused tickets to surge to $450,000 per seat.
The commercial flights come after a fatal test flight back in October 2014, when a Virgin Galactic pilot was killed and another was injured as the SpaceShipTwo space tourism craft crashed in the California desert.
However, Virgin Galactic has assured that many safety measures have been implemented since the tragic accident to keep history from repeating itself.
Branson, the Virgin mogul whose net worth was pegged by Forbes at around $3 billion, beat rival billionaire Jeff Bezos into space two years ago, when he boarded his own company’s winged rocket ship alongside five crewmates.
Bezos, the Amazon founder who left his chief executive position to concentrate on his Blue Origin space tourism company, flew into space nine days later.
Blue Origin has since launched several passenger trips.
Virgin Galactic has reached space six times since 2018 and will be aiming for 400 flights per year from Spaceport America once it finishes building its next class of rocket-powered planes at a facility in neighboring Arizona.
In May 2020, SpaceX, which is owned by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, became the first private company to send astronauts to the International Space Station.
SpaceX, which has partnered with NASA, has sold multi-day suborbital trips at a cost of $55 million per ticket.