Much has been written about Spaceport America and Richard Branson’s plans for Virgin Galactic to take travelers into space from the facility located just west of US Army White Sands Missile Range in Sierra County, New Mexico… but I had yet to visit it myself.
I had my chance last week to tour the Gateway to Space and it’s a pretty amazing experience to see such a beautiful building surrounded by nothing but New Mexico desert as far as the eye can see. Spaceport America is owned by the State of New Mexico and the Gateway to Space was built to be the headquarters of the world’s first ‘commercial passenger spaceline’, Virgin Galactic. The building contains 110,000 square feet of space with room for astronaut training rooms, lounges, and a central super hangar. Designed by an international team that included the famous British architect, Norman Foster, the building is LEED Gold certified and has already won many awards.
The runway is 200 feet by 12,000 feet and can accommodate the largest planes in the world. It contains 10 acres of concrete, 4.5 feet thick. The largest tenant is Virgin Galactic, but Elon Musk’s SpaceX signed a lease at Spaceport America last spring and hopes to begin test launching rockets.
Interested in buying a ticket to space? Virgin Galactic has already sold 700 tickets and there are 86,000 people on the waiting list. What will those lucky 700 ticket holders get to experience? Something very few people ever have. “Space” is defined as 62 miles above earth’s sea level – the Karman line represents the boundary line between earth’s atmosphere and space. Flights will travel 70 miles above the earth and travelers will get to see the earth’s curvature from that distance. The body will experience 3.5 g’s of force going up and 6 g’s coming down.
Virgin Galactic hopes to launch its first flight at the end of this year. Richard Branson and his two children will be the first passengers on that flight. I am terrified of heights and do not even like to fly in an airplane so the very thought of space travel gives me heart palpitations – and not in a good way but bravo to those 86,000 brave souls on the waiting list who are more intrepid than I.