A mother from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda has won two tickets, worth $450,000 each, to be among Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists, the company announced.
Keisha Schahaff, a health and energy coach, said she wanted to take the trip of a lifetime into Earth’s orbit with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student living in Britain who dreams of one day working for NASA.
Virgin Galactic had organized the fundraiser lottery contest on the Omaze platform.
Schahaff said she saw an advertisement on a Virgin Atlantic flight and decided to take a shot at the prize.
“I entered the sweepstakes after I saw an ad when I was taking my daughter to school, but who would have thought that I’d actually win. My daughter is studying STEM and wants to work at NASA, and I hope to share this experience with her because it would be an incredible dream come true for both of us, and our entire family,” she told People.
The amount Schahaff donated was not made public, but entry started with a minimum contribution of $10.
“I just filled out the application, did what was required… not realizing that I would have actually gotten a response to it,” she said.
Schahaff said she was shocked when Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised her with the news at her home in early November.
“I just thought I was doing a zoom interview,” she told AFP.
“When I saw Richard Branson walking in I just started screaming! I couldn’t believe it.”
“I always was interested in space as a little girl,” she added.
“This is a great opportunity for me to feel alive and to just make the greatest adventure ever.”
“I’m very encouraged to inspire others to also live their dream.”
The drive attracted nearly 165,000 participants in eight weeks and raised $1.7 million which will be donated to the NGO Space for Humanity, which works for wider access to space, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.
Schahaff will be among the first of Virgin Galactic’s space tourists, however, her place in the line has yet to be determined, a company spokesperson said.
“To be the first astronaut right now from the Caribbean Islands is such an honor,” she adds.
“I want to bring the flag of Antigua and Barbuda to space with me! Right now, I’m trying to live in the moment, take it all in and I hope my daughter and I — as a future astronaut!— can be an inspiration for women and girls everywhere.”
Branson beat Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos in their billionaire space race and made history when he flew in his company’s test mission to space earlier this year.
The British septuagenarian, along with five other team members, embarked on the company’s first fully crewed flight test and flew to an altitude of 53.5 miles above Earth’s surface on July 11.
After the trip, Branson said that one of his next goals was to see the first Virgin Galactic customers take off on their trips to space.
“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” said Branson.
The company has already pre-sold some 600 space tickets between 2005 and 2014, and another 100 since August when they were relisted for a price of $450,000.
Their aim is to sell 1,000 tickets in total before the launch of commercial flights, the first of which is to take place in late 2022, the company spokesperson said.