Lucky Keith Mercer from Virgin Atlantic has just returned from enjoying a fantastic prize he won of a tour to Scaled Composites and a meet the team in the Mojave desert thanks to Virgin Galactic and the Virgin Prize Bonanza.
He tells us his story
"Winding through the snow-capped hills to the north of Los Angeles in our Ford Mustang, my wife and I were filled with anticipation at our imminent visit to the Virgin Galactic Space facility in Mojave. Transitioning from snow to desert we entered 'Aerospace valley', the historic area where numerous test and experimental flights have occurred during the history of aviation. Another hour heading north and we entered the sleepy town of Mojave and navigated our way towards the airfield.
Upon entering the Scaled Composites lobby we were met by Brian Binnie, one of the Virgin Galactic test pilots (pictured below with Keith and Sara). Virgin Galactic is essentially a partnership between Sir Richard Branson and Burt Rutan, an entrepreneur and keen aviation enthusiast. Burt Rutans company, Scaled Composites won the X prize after sending a spaceship to a height of 100 km twice over a two week period. Richard then formed an alliance with Rutan to create Virgin Galactic which is a commercial venture to make space flight accessible to the public.
Brian commenced our tour by taking us to Legacy Park where a replica of Spaceship 1, which he commandeered to 367500 feet, is housed. A fascinating account of the parabolic journey into space and the incredible view from the apogee of the flight was recounted by Brian, a modest yet extraordinary aeronaut. Next stop was the main section where the mothership 'Eve' and the spaceship 'Enterprise' are hangared. The sensation on entering and perceiving these gleaming and imposing creatures for the first time is one of awe and reverence. The realisation that the future of a long and distinguished history of space exploration was right before our eyes was overwhelming.
Matt, the program manager (photo above), gave us an engrossing and interesting technical tour of the facility giving us a unique insight into the development of the spacecraft and the aspirations for the future. There is an inherent risk involved in pioneering space travel so the enterprise can never be risk averse. The team are however ensuring that safety is at a premium, thus a launch date will be when all lights are green as opposed to a date specific target. What struck me most is how the spaceship is not assembled by ordering parts from manufacturers, it is born of the ingenuity and invention of the passionate employees of this fascinating project. The mothership has the aura of a long-legged insect which cradles the spaceship in its belly, protecting the craft until it releases it to power up into the ether. Sir Richard is everywhere, watching, his actual iris imprint adorning the underwing of 'Eve' and the Galactic logo.
The conclusion of our tour took place with some exquisite victuals in the famous 'Voyager' cafe. Looking out across the airfield and gazing up into the sky, the reality of travelling into space has become a lot closer for us now we have seen the intricate workings up close.
We feel very privileged to have been allowed to savour the Galactic experience and will certainly follow future developments with renewed vigour and enthusiasm."