Monday, May 23, 2011

Virgin Galactic

Courtesy USA-Today Charisse Jones April 26, 2011
Students in Grade 2 through 6 attended a fascinating presentation on Virgin Galactic by Pamela Moser, President & CEO of Hurley Travel Experts. Pam is one of only 120 Accredited Space Agents in the world trained by Virgin Galactic as a specialist in commercial space tourism and suborbital space flight. There are only 72 Accredited Space Agents in the Americas.
Pam and and her assistant Emily Cesta started their inspiring presentation with a slide presentation on the history of space exploration and a description of our solar system. Students were eager to answer the numerous questions and trivia relating to the eight official planets and their satellites; zero gravity and the challenges spacecraft face to escape the earth gravity.
Pam explained that instead of launching a rocket directly into space, a plane will fly SpaceShipTwo under its wing to 50,000 feet, where it will separate and blast off. The craft will climb to the edge of space, or about 60 miles above the Earth's surface.
Student question: Why use a carrier aircraft instead of launching a rocket directly into space?
Pam: It will save a considerable amount of fuel and energy, therefore reducing the cost of each flight and its ecological impact. Virgin Galactic has built a “green spaceship” with a remarkable low environmental footprint.
According to Virgin: "Every astronaut is an environmentalist,” implying that the very act of viewing the Earth from space will change people’s attitudes about pollution and the environment.

Pam has trained at NASA's Kennedy Space Center and is an active participant of the history of space tourism in the making. She is also the pround parent of a preschooler at l’Ecole Française du Maine. The presentation concluded with the following flight simulator experience and all students received many gifts including CD's and booklets detailing Virgin Galactic upcoming flights! Our students may well be on the list of the first Maine space tourists!

Virgin Galactic spacecraft is planning next year to take paying passengers ($200,000 per person with a $20,000 deposit). The craft is projected to be a six passenger, two pilot craft. Its planned trajectory will overlap the Earth’s atmosphere at 70,000 feet (21,000 m), which will make it a sub-orbital journey with a short period of weightlessness. The spacecraft, SpaceShipTwo, will be carried to about 16 kilometers or 52000 ft by a carrier aircraft, White Knight II. At that point, when the carrier aircraft reaches its maximum height, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle will separate and continue to over 100 km (the Kármán line, a common definition of where "space" begins). The time from liftoff of the White Knight booster carrying SpaceShipTwo until the touchdown of SpaceShipTwo after the sub-orbital flight will be about 3.5 hours. The sub-orbital flight itself will only be a small fraction of that time. The weightlessness will last approximately 6 minutes. Passengers will be able to release themselves from their seats during these 6 minutes and float around the cabin.