Next year, Virgin Galactic is planning on mounting its first tourist spaceflight. This will involve SpaceShipTwo, the flagship of the fleet, taking six civilian passengers – including founder Richard Branson and his two adult children, Holly and Sam – into Near-Earth Orbit for the first time. And in true Bransonian fashion, he has arranged a major multimedia campaign in preparation for the event.
This consisted of signing a “multi-platform partnership” with the network NBCUniversal for it’s affiliates to transmit the flight all over the world. So far, the platforms for coverage include CNBC, MSNBC, NBCNews.com, Syfy and The Weather Channel. They also plan a “primetime special” on NBC on the launch’s eve, and to host a live event for three hours on NBC’s Today show.
This past September, SpaceShipTwo conducted its second powered test flight, which consisted of a full-technical run through. This concluded with the deployment of its feathered wings, which allowed the ship to slow down and make a controlled descent. These were the latest in a long series of flights designed to test the ship’s engine, wings, landing mechanisms, and ability to glide.
Said Branson of the newly-announced partnership:
Virgin Galactic is thrilled that NBCUniversal will join us on our exciting first journey to space. In this first chapter of commercial space travel, we will help make space accessible and inspire countless more people to join us in the pursuit of space exploration and science innovation.
Already, some 600 people have signed up for a ride aboard SpaceShipTwo once it’s making regular runs into orbit. What’s more, competitors have emerged to get a piece of the market, the most notable of which are XCOR Aerospace (run by Jeff Greason, a former member of the Rotary Rocket company) and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin.
Another curious media partnership is also being contemplated in anticipation of the maiden flight. This one comes from One Three Media, the company behind the Survivor series. Apparently, CEO Mark Burnett is looking to create a reality TV show where contenders will compete for a chance to win tickets aboard the space carrier.
No indication has been given yet as to what sort of things contestants will do in order to win, or whether they have to go through something similar to astronaut training. But a recent press release from the studio stated the show would be a “groundbreaking, elimination competition series where everyday people compete for the ultimate prize”.
And according to Mark Burnett, it represents the culmination of a decade’s long dream:
For the past 10 years I have relentlessly pursued my dream of using a TV show to give an everyday person the chance to experience the black sky of space and look down upon mother Earth. Last year, I spent time in New Mexico at the state-of-the-art facility and last week [I] spent time in the Mojave desert with Sir Richard and his impressive team. We got to see the spaceship up close and hear of Sir Richard’s incredible vision of how Virgin Galactic is the future of private space travel. I am thrilled to be part of a series that will give the everyday person a chance to see space, and that NBC has come on board too so that viewers at home will have a first-class seat.
No telling on when this show might premiere, but it is the latest in a long series of attempts by Burnett to put a person into space. Back in 2000, he announced a deal with NBC to host a space reality show (Destination Mir) where the winner would visit the Russian space station. Burnett subsequently proposed another show that would have brought ‘N Sync guitarist Lance Bass to the International Space Station.
Due to various factors, such as lack of funding and the Russian Federal Space Agency choosing to deorbit their aging space station in 2001. But with Branson ready to send people into space, and with a transport mechanism that is far more affordable and accessible than space rockets, this latest reality space venture might just come to fruition.
The age of private space travel is dawning, friends. I sincerely hope I can afford a trip into space before I’m too old to go. It’s too soon for me to make a bucket list, but I know for a fact that I would like to know the feeling of weightlessness at least once before I die!