To say that I was somewhat overwhelmed by the opportunity to spend 48 hrs in California, courtesy of a very generous Sir Richard Branson, would be an understatement. Nothing can or ever will compare to our day in the Mojave Desert. It was such a privilege to be able to meet and socialise with the most incredible team of Virgin Galactic employees and diverse collection of future astronauts.
When this opportunity arose, there was no question in my mind that I shouldn’t go. It was a case of yes, definitely. Maybe or no didn’t enter my mind. Thanks to my very dear friend Clare Park, someone who obviously shares my ‘seize the moment’ mentality, I was able to experience something that money simply can’t buy, apart from at a charity lunch for Spinal Injuries Charity, Regain, so it would appear, or if you are one of the worlds more wealthy individuals, which I most definitely am not.
Tuesday 24th September:
An evening reception at a very trendy Beverly Hills hotel on the Tuesday evening was our starting point. Within half an hour of arriving at our hotel and after a ten hour flight, we were at ‘Mr C’ to embark on our first stage of our adventure.
On arrival, we immediately made our way to register as guests and receive our security passes for the following day’s events. The excitement & reality was starting to kick in. Not having a clue what to expect was probably the most unnerving part of our journey so far. The rumours of many high profile celebrities who had signed up to fly into space was at the forefront of our over-excited minds. How does one behave amongst such people? Would we be so totally starstruck that all sensibility and reasonable behaviour would render ourselves the embarrassing outsiders? Fortunately there was not a celebrity in sight. A relief and a blessing. We were surrounded by some of the wealthiest and most interesting people from all over the world.
An interesting observation was that they all appeared to be huddled round in little groups, champagne cocktails in hand, waxing lyrical about all things space travel. They all knew each other. We had just entered one of the, if not ‘the’ most exclusive club in the world. The Virgin Galactic Astronaut Club.
Wednesday 25th September:
A very early start, at 5:30am we were boarding our coach to the Mojave Desert for what was to be the most amazing day. Again we really had no idea what to expect, but at least we knew we wouldn’t find ourselves tongue tied and stumbling over our words sitting next to Brad Pitt or Sarah Brightman on our hour long coach journey to our destination. The sun rose over the desert, the anticipation of the day ahead filled us with excitement and as we drove into the headquarters of Virgin Galactic, the realisation of what we were doing, was sitting on the Tarmac in front of an enormous airline hangar. WhiteKnightTwo & SpaceShipTwo, the incredible feat of engineering excellence that would one day, very soon, transport civilians into space. The ride of a lifetime, if there ever was one.
Our day was filled with more information, wonderful and at times bamboozling, than we could ever have imagined. We were so privileged to have the opportunity to have a day with the Virgin Galactic employees who shared their wealth of knowledge in the most eloquent and simplistic manner. Sir Richard Branson has quite simply surrounded himself with the most amazing team of normal, intelligent & passionate individuals from across the world. Each and every one of those who spoke to us during this incredible day, showed a genuine enthusiasm that I don’t think could be compared to anything I’ve experienced before.
The final icing on the cake was the evening party at the California Space Station. One word – Endeavour! We partied the night away with the myriad of future astronauts and their guests under one of NASA’s most famous space ships. I even danced with one of the pilots! Once back at the hotel we realised that many of the Virgin Galactic staff, who we’d just spent the day with in desert, were staying in our hotel. It would be rude to go to bed and not continue our adventure in the hotel bar. A couple of hours later and many interesting conversations with staff and astronauts alike, we felt that we’d certainly made the most of our day. It was quite simply the most surreal, and exciting day of my life to date and I doubt I’ll ever experience anything quite like it again.
We were so fortunate to meet some lovely people during our stay, from all over the world. I’d like to thank Andrew Davis & his lovely dad, Edward from ‘Up North’, Terese & David Salisbury from Detroit, Amanda Lane (who just happened to be the Great Niece of the Wright Brothers and took some great photos of the astronauts, then emailed them to me – big thanks Amanda), and so many others for making our experience so memorable. We couldn’t have asked to meet a nicer bunch of people. It was truly humbling in so many ways.
The question that I asked myself when I found out that Clare and I were actually going to be taking part in this remarkable couple of days in LA, “Would I ever consider flying into space?”. The answer: Yes! I can’t think of anyone better to take that leap into the unknown with than Sir Richard Branson and his amazing team at Virgin Galactic. I will be dining out on this story for the rest of my days. Thank you Sir Richard & Regain for such an extraordinary and privileged experience.