Dawn Of The Citizen Astronaut Asa Agents Have Your Ticket


Dawn of the Citizen Astronaut: ASA Agents Have Your Ticket

By Philip A. Janquart

NewSpace Magazine

Kevin Loveless stood in the midst of the dry, barren wasteland that is White Sands, New Mexico. When the bus that brought him there pulled away, he was struck with awe at the vision beyond it.

"We saw the future right there in front us," He said.

Loveless stood with a group of fellow Accredited Space Agents (ASA's) gathered from around the world as they got their first in-person glimpse of Spaceport America, the first-ever civilian spaceport being built by the citizens of New Mexico. Dona Ana and Sierra County Voters approved a $40 million spaceport tax in 2008, funding the project and making the state not only a bookmark in space industry history but, now, a launch point for the future.

"It looked like a giant mushroom, but you hardly knew it was there because they've built it into the environment," Loveless said. "It just looked like it belonged there."

President of Global Travel in Boise, Loveless recently returned from his second ASA forum at Spaceport America, an event designed to familiarize agents with the facilities, as well as New Mexico and its rich, and sometimes surprising, industry history. The forum, held October 4 through 8, included stops at the National Solar Observatory and the New Mexico Museum of Space History.

Loveless is one of 75 ASA's in the America's and Australia, and one of 128 in 33 countries worldwide authorized by Virgin Galactic to sell vacation packages to future civilian astronauts.

There are fewer than 500 people who have been to space, but Virgin Galactic plans on increasing those numbers beginning next year, when it sends the first private spacecraft, SpaceShip Two, (a.k.a. VSS Enterprise) beyond the mesosphere into the lower thermosphere. It will carry two pilots and six private citizens, giving them the unique opportunity to see Earth from 62 miles, or 327,360 feet above sea level. Tickets are $200,000 a piece, and those eager to become space travel pioneers can make a deposit of $20,000 to reserve a seat on a future flight.

"So far there are a total of 370 tickets sold, with about $50 million in protected deposits," said Loveless, who began the process of becoming an ASA in January 2009. "This really gets me excited from a travel perspective. I have two or three individuals who are very interested (in buying tickets). I'm actually interested in it myself."

Loveless became involved in selling seats on spacecraft through his membership with Virtuoso, the industry leader in luxury travel and Virgin Galactic's retail sales channel since 2006. Virtuoso is a "By-invitation-only" organization, comprising over 300 agencies with more than 6,000 elite travel specialists in 22 countries. The company, which also publishes a magazine under the same name, has exclusive rights to sell Virgin Galactic space travel in the Americas, extending those rights to member agents.

Prospective agents must attend training with Virgin Galactic, giving them expert knowledge in guiding prospective space customers.

From Dream to Reality

Dinosaurs and rockets were all the rage when he was growing up. Like millions the world over, Loveless, his imagination stimulated by the space race of the 1960's, dreamed of one day traveling man's final frontier.

He imagined a craft, similar to the U.S. space shuttle, taking hundreds of passengers beyond Earth's atmosphere. It's something he has been waiting over four decades to see.

"I was around for the space race," he said. "That's why I read the newspaper and watched television. I waited to see Walter Cronkite talk about rockets, in that voice of his, Today America sent another rocket into space . . .' It was exciting, and very American.'"

But Loveless said what is happening today is not just an "American" thing, rather a shared experience.

"It's nice to see that this is more of a joint effort," he explained. "It's something that can unite us, helping each other to go above the atmosphere. We are sharing the technology, the experience; that's what tourism is all about. I imagine, when you get up there, you can't see any borders. We are all on the Earth together. From everything you hear, people react to it in different ways, but some come back with a very different perspective of what it means to live on this Earth."

Loveless left Spaceport America just days before Virgin Galactic's October 11 SpaceShip Two glide test, performed 45,000 feet above the Mojave desert, home of the Mojave Air and Spaceport in California. It's one of several more tests that need to be performed before the spacecraft takes its first load of paying customers to space.

The ages of the 370 who have already purchased tickets range from 18- to 83-years-old. Once customers put down their 10 percent deposit, they receive a welcome pack with special insider updates, including invitations to events with fellow astronauts.

All astronauts take part in a three-day training program at Spaceport America, receive a Phillippe Starck-designed space suit, undergo G-force and weightlessness training, pre-flight training and are briefed on their suborbital mission. Customers are given the opportunity to charter the world's first commercial spacecraft with family, friends or co-workers.

When SpaceShip Two is ready to go, it will catch a ride under the wing of WhiteKnight Two. The spacecraft releases from its carrier craft after reaching 45,000 feet and, by power of its hybrid rocket engine, accelerates into a vertical climb, reaching speeds as high as Mach 4.

Astronauts will enjoy four to five minutes of zero gravity before returning to Earth, experiencing the force of six G's before gliding safely back to Spaceport America's two-mile long runway.

"It's hard to tell if the price will come down in the future," Loveless said, of the $200,000 cost that all but prices most people out of the opportunity. "It depends on whether competitors are able to bring something to the table. It is a business and there is potential to take it to other places, like space hotels. They can do all sorts of things."

Virgin Galactic, however, is not the only company who wants to send people to space. Aircraft manufacturing giant Boeing is the latest to enter the space tourism ring, vying for position in an emerging industry that also includes companies like Armadillo Aerospace and Xcor Aerospace. According to SPACE.com, Virginia-based Space Adventures will market passenger seats aboard commercial flights of Boeing's Crew Space Transportation-100 spacecraft. The craft is being designed to travel to the International Space Station and future private space stations.

SIDEBAR:

Courtesy of Global Travel

Booking Your Flight

Exclusive Astronaut Benefits

From the moment you book, you are treated like a VIP

High degree of involvement in the project as it progresses.

Invitations to milestone events for exclusive access to the project.

Invitations to exclusive hosted trips for fun and networking with the Virgin Galactic team.

Access to dedicated website, Facebook-style exclusive to Virgin Galactic customers.

The Countdown

Astronauts will spend 3 days preparing for their journey at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Launch minus 3:

Astronauts checked into the Astronaut Hotel

Relax in the company of the flight crew & fellow passengers

Launch minus 2:

Meet the team that will spend the next 3 days with them.

Final medical checks.

Spacesuit Fitting

Dress rehearsal inside SpaceShip Two

Flight Training / Launch Simulation

G-force Training

Launch minus 1: