From Richard Branson to Jeff Bezos, space tourism takes flight – Livemint

Posted: June 23, 2021 at 6:37 am

Test Gods: Virgin Galactic And The Making Of A Modern Astronaut; Penguin Random House UK, Pgs 352; 799 (Courtesy: Penguin Random House)

As Schmidle points out in the book, Branson, Bezos and SpaceX founder Elon Musk have distinct visions for their journeys to space. While Virgin Galactic hopes to carry passengers on a sub-orbital flight, Blue Origin is interested in deep space exploration too. The most ambitious is Musk, who hopes to colonise Mars one day.

With Mark Stucky, however, the author takes the reader on a deeply personal journey, right from his early days as a boy who was born to fly. Inspired by the pioneering aviator John Glenn, and his missions to space in 1962, a three-year-old Stucky told his father he would one day become an astronaut. His first experiences of hang gliding, skydiving with goggles stolen from a chemistry lab and a dodgy parachute, life in the Marine Corps, becoming a pilot with US space agency Nasa and flying the worlds fastest spy jet, serving with the air force during the war in IraqSchmidle puts you on the shoulder of a successful pilot and his passion for flying. The author is no stranger to this feeling. His father, Robert, was a decorated fighter pilot.

Also read: When space is more than rocket science

The triumphs and journey of taking people to space are also dotted with tragic moments. In 2014, Stucky saw one of his closest friends and co-pilots, Michael Alsbury, die in a crash of the Virgin SpaceShipTwo space vehicle VSS Enterprise. Schmidle poignantly describes the small margins of error and the risks that come with the job.

It was a simple technical mistake by Alsbury, an experienced test pilot, that led to the crash as aerodynamic forces tore the ship apart. The tragedy hit Stucky hard but didnt deter him. An expectation of sudden death came with the job; test pilots learned to metabolize mortality differently than the rest of us, Schmidle writes.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity, piloted by CJ Sturckow and Dave Mackay, is released from its mothership, VMS Eve, on the way to its first spaceflight after launch from Spaceport America, New Mexico, U.S. May 22, 2021 in a still image from video. (Virgin Galactic/Handout via REUTERS)

There is, of course, the elation of flying to space, experiencing weightlessness and returning safely to Earth. In December 2018, Stucky and his co-pilot Frederick Sturckow, also a former Nasa astronaut, took the SpaceShipTwo more than 51 miles (roughly around 82.7km) above Earth, a mark used by the US to denote the beginning of space. This was a major boost for Virgin Galacticand the industry is expecting much more, in the form of commercial operations for instance, by the end of the year.

For those who can afford it and the ones with the right risk appetite, nothing else comes close to space travel, says Schmidle. A Himalayan expedition seemed almost pedestrian by comparison.

This brings up another question, recently posed by the Associated Press: As private space flight picks up speed, who should be called an astronaut? What do we call the people who are reportedly willing to pay up to $55 million for a seat on a space rocket? Amateur astronauts or space tourists? Space sightseers or rocket riders? Schmidles book leads you to some answers. But more importantly, it takes you on a well-reported journey on what inspires people to chase their dreams.

Also read: Egos clash as Bezos, Musk compete in the modern space race

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From Richard Branson to Jeff Bezos, space tourism takes flight - Livemint

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