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Mission Virgin Galactic – Winners’ trip to New Mexico, October 2010

Back in July 2009, the winners of the Mission Virgin Galactic competition, a partnership between the Royal Aeronautical Society and Virgin Galactic, were announced at the Royal International Air Tattoo, Fairford, where the finals took place.

The competition asked Key Stage 3 students across the UK to come up with a marketable product incorporating one of more of the science, technology or engineering principles used in space tourism, including making a prototype and ‘selling’ it ‘Dragon’s Den style’ to the judges. Students from St Mary’s Middle School, Dorset won first prize. However, the runners’ up, from Sackville School, West Sussex, also had an excellent product and so both schools were invited on the prize-winning week-long trip to the USA. Fast-forward one year, and their patience paid off as the students and teachers went to visit New Mexico, home to the world’s first spaceport, as guests of Virgin Galactic.

 Pupils Matt Williams (St Mary’s Middle School) and Alice Whittaker and Misaki Beckett (Sackville School) tell us more.

The governor of New Mexico and Sir Richard Branson stand with their thumbs up as space rocket SpaceShipTwo flies in the sky behind them.

Miskai: “I was over the moon to go to the USA as I had never been there before and was also eager to see the first spaceport in the world. The accommodation during the trip was outstanding and we were treated like VIPS! The week passed by quickly as we were having so much fun. There were different activities such as touring New Mexico University to see their Science, Engineering and Mathematics Academies and we attended an assembly talk by some of the famous astronauts, engineers and directors of Virgin Galactric which was very interesting. We also got free samples of astronaut ice-cream too!”

Matt: “On the Thursday, we had a tour of the spaceport site where we got to stand on the runway and see the spaceport up close. This was extraordinary. We were standing (and running!) on the very ground on which space history is being made. Then on the Friday we had the main event of the week when we went to the spaceport dedication ceremony and met Sir Richard Branson, Buzz Aldrin and the Governor of New Mexcio, Bill Richardson.”

Alice: “Standing on the runway was amazing – I have never seen anything so huge. It was a great feeling to run, stretch your arms out and close your eyes. I loved the runway.”

Matt:The spaceport is stunning, Foster + Partners have done a superb job.  The visual effect is amazing even in its skeletal form, the spaceport is astonishing and the building team on the ground have made the visions of the architects a reality.”

During the ceremony, the WhiteKnight and SS2 performed a fly past over the spaceport.

Misaki: “When we saw the real spaceship for the first time with our own eyes, it was utterly breathtaking.”

Alice:”The aircraft was huge and it surprised me how graceful it was in the sky. When it did flyovers you could see the colourful Virgin Galactic logo and the noise was amazing.”

Matt:  “It was awe-inspiring. WhiteKnightTwo is an astounding piece of engineering - Scaled Composites have done something amazing with this project. Furthermore the implications of it are extraordinary; not only is it the first of its kind, a commercial spaceship, but it also remarkably environmentally friendly.  It is the first commercial vehicle to be made entirely out of carbon composite but also its innovative hybrid rocket motor means that a trip to space with Virgin Galactic will cost the environment less than a one-way flight from London to New York!”

What was it like meeting Sir Richard Branson and Buzz Aldrin?

Matt: “Sir Richard was brilliant, despite having his distinguished guests to show around the spaceport, he took the time to come, in person, to talk to our group and congratulate us on winning the competition.  He has been a role model for me and the others for a long time and to meet him was a fantastic opportunity and a memory I shall cherish forever.”

Alice: “Buzz Aldrin talked to us for a long time about pursuing what we wanted to do, and he was very inspirational. It was great to meet such a legend – it was a once in a lifetime opportunity.”

Misaki: “The main and the best highlight of the entire trip was the Spaceport America day where all the Virgin Galactic future astronauts from all over the globe were invited to, including industry VIPs and the world’s press congregated for the milestone event.”

Has the experience made you more interested in the space industry and engineering careers?

Misaki:The commercial space flight programme has opened doors to other people to experience a time in space and see the natural beauty of planet Earth. One day I would love to go on Spaceship Two and go to space or even work for Virgin Galactic!”

Alice: “ I believe that Virgin Galactic is at the pinnacle of technology for space, because it’s finally available to the (relatively) normal person. I hope that the price will continue to fall, and in the long term, point-to-point space travel might be possible to new spaceports around the world. It would be an unbelievably quick way to travel large distances, although of course passengers would have to be trained for a few days first! It’s great to be at the launch of something so special.

Matt: “I’m still leaving my options open however after talking with the engineers behind the project I am definitely considering engineering as a career choice.  I would love to get more experience and work alongside some of the great minds masterminding this project.”

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