Virgin Galactic announced in the past week that it has begun its Astronaut Readiness Program, a prep course for its customers awaiting to fly to space on SpaceShipTwo. The company has been selling 90-minute flights to suborbital space since 2004
‘Introducing our Astronaut Readiness Program to our first customers marks an exciting point in our journey as we move closer to the start of commercial service,’ said George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic, in a statement. ‘It is an important step in the process to ensure that our customers are prepared and equipped with the knowledge and training that will help ensure that they savor every second of their spaceflight which we hope will go beyond expectations.’
The company revealed its specialized spacesuits, designed with partner Under Armour, in New York in mid-October, and demonstrated its Gateway to Space headquarters at Spaceport America in mid-August. The next logical step is to get the customers ready for actual spaceflight.
Last week, the first group of customers who will be the first to fly with Virgin Galactic came to Baltimore to train at Under Armour Global HQ, where they were fitted for their spaceflight garments and completed a number of preparation activities, including nutrition and fitness counseling. The future astronauts will get to walk away with their spacesuits as keepsakes after the flight.
The instructors who lead the preparation courses – Beth Moses and Dave Mackay – are those who were on Virgin Galactic’s demonstration test flight in February 2019, sharing insights based on actual experience.
Although Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts are not subject to health and fitness requirements for NASA astronauts, Virgin Galactic is still conducting medical consultations with each customer to ensure that it is safe for them to engage in the spaceflight.
So far, more than 600 customers from 60 countries around the world paid $250,000 each for a chance to fly on SpaceShipTwo. With founder Sir Richard Branson first promising that flights will take place in 2007, the wait has been so long that some customers have already sought refunds for their tickets.
Virgin Galactic says it wants to provide a platform to allow its customers to experience the ‘profound and transformative qualities’ of spaceflight by ensuring that they have a good experience ‘not only before, but during and after the incredible, personal experience of spaceflight.’
The company also hopes to learn from this experience so that it can continue to improve. ‘We will now be using the feedback from this week in Baltimore to build on that model,’ according to the press release. ‘We discussed with our future astronauts how the training and the community can be best shaped for those waiting to fly and for those who have flown.’
Virgin Galactic plans to launch the first paying customers to space in the first half of 2020.