New Zealanders Lead the Way to Space
New Zealanders Lead the Way to Space
This week Virgin Galactic announced that seven New Zealanders have paid a deposit for a Virgin Galactic sub-orbital spaceflight making New Zealand Virgin’s most significant space tourism market in terms of population size. “Although the US remains our key market in terms of actual numbers, New Zealand is streets ahead in terms of the ratio of people that have signed up per head of population.” said Carolyn Wincer, Virgin Galactic Head of Astronaut Sales, currently in New Zealand and working with the 8 House of Travel & Adventure Travel consultants who are the only travel agents in New Zealand authorised to work on behalf of Virgin Galactic and amongst a group of just 120 “Accredited Space Agents” worldwide.
Sir Richard Branson commented that everyone at Virgin Galactic was intrigued by the high uptake amongst Kiwis. “From the beginning New Zealand has been significant with Mark Rocket being one of our very first customers in the world, however when I heard that the total had gone to seven despite a population of just 4 million we were quite impressed and wanted to find out why."
Based in Christchurch, Mark Rocket, who changed his name in 2000 to reflect his passion for all things space, is further strengthening the Kiwi connection to space with the development of a new independent space launch system designed to take payload to space. Rocket is co-Director of the company, Rocket Lab which had it’s first successful launch from Mercury Island in November 2009.
For the pioneering Kiwis the trip to space is about realising a long held dream but also the natural Kiwi spirit to push new boundaries. “I truly believe that New Zealand has a part to play in space exploration in the coming decades. Sir William Pickering led the way.” Commented Mark Rocket who was the first Kiwi to put down a deposit with Virgin Galactic. “All of our ancestors come from distant shores so we’ve got exploration in our DNA.”
Wincer, a Kiwi herself and originally from Nelson has been discussing the strong interest from New Zealanders with the Accredited Space Agents and the Kiwi future astronauts over the past week. “I think it’s a given that New Zealanders are naturally adventurous but in reality I think it’s the pioneering aspect that appeals to Kiwis.” Wincer commented from Nelson this week. She continued “Space is largely unchartered territory and to date fewer than 500 people have left the planet so this is a whole new experience for people to have and a whole new place to be explored. Virgin Galactic are aiming to make space accessible for anybody who has a desire to go there and these early customers are really helping us make that happen. They truly are pioneers and being a pioneer is a very Kiwi thing!”
Three of the New Zealand astronauts in waiting flew to Los Angeles in December to witness the unveiling of SpaceShipTwo, the vehicle that will be taking them on their sub-orbital flight. Also present were three of the House of Travel “Accredited Space Agents”. One of them, Katrina Cole of House of Travel Botany Junction in Auckland, has now signed up 4 Kiwis, placing her in the top 10 travel agents worldwide for Virgin Galactic. When Cole saw SpaceShipTwo for the first time she was incredibly excited about future prospects for the travel industry. “I think it is the most important development in travel since the 747 and I’m not surprised by the uptake in New Zealand.” Talking about how she goes about selling the unique product Cole said “I think it’s essential to not impose your own limits on others and to not assume that just because of the price tag it is for the wealthy. Many people are so inspired by this project that they would find the money from somewhere to make it happen just because they want to be part of such an exciting and important development.”
Virgin is currently in the test flight programme for SpaceShipTwo and is not willing to commit on a flight date. “This is a safe race not a space race. We are looking at building a long term and lucrative business out of tourist flights and you can’t do that if you don’t take safety seriously. For that reason we will not be taking any passengers to space until we are confident that the system is as safe as it can possibly be”. Said Wincer.
However Virgin Galactic is the leader in the field with the system currently undergoing an extensive test program in Mojave California. Once Virgin has received the appropriate licensing and approvals the sub-orbital tourist flights will take place from Spaceport America in New Mexico. This is also where the future astronauts will undergo their flight training and preparation. Spaceport America is already under construction with completion expected in 2011.
The New Zealand Accredited Space Agents are: -
Ian Collier, Adventure Travel, Christchurch
Jeff Leckey, Jeff Leckey House of Travel, Nelson
Karl Woolcott, Adventure Travel, Wellington
Katrina Cole, House of Travel Botany Junction, Auckland
Paul Forward, Calder & Lawson House of Travel, Hamilton
Shane Kennedy, Shane Kennedy House of Travel, Tauranga
Stephen Parsons, Stephen Parsons House of Travel, Palmerston North
Tony Laker, Laker House of Travel, Southland & Queenstown