Virgin unveils frequent flyer astronaut

Virgin Atlantic has announced that Alan Watts, a former electrician, will be the first person in the world to become an astronaut using his frequent flyer miles as payment.  Alan has earned the two million Virgin Atlantic Flying Club miles required to qualify for the offer and will be redeeming them on a trip to space with Virgin Galactic, the world’s first commercial space tourism company, in 2009. 

Alan’s opportunity to go to space came about when Virgin Atlantic joined forces with Virgin Galactic to give the airline’s Flying Club members a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to become an astronaut by earning two million miles to redeem on this unique adventure. 

Alan Watts, aged 51 and from Harrow in Middlesex, is the Managing Director of an electrical engineering firm. Alan joined Flying Club in 2000 and has travelled on over 30 Virgin Atlantic flights since then.  He is expected to make his epic journey in 2009

To date, the world has seen only 447 astronauts; with the launch of Virgin Galactic commercial flights, we expect this to grow to many, many thousands. Initially flights will cost $200,000 but Virgin Galactic expect prices to fall over time. 

Alan will be among the first 1,000 astronauts in history and will enjoy the full three day Virgin Galactic Experience which will ensure that he can savour each second of his space flight.  After three days of exciting preparation, bonding and training, Alan will board the spaceship, which climbs to 50,000 feet while attached to a specially designed carrier aircraft - an intrinsically safer way to launch than vertically from the ground. From here, the spaceship releases from the carrier and climbs vertically, reaching the speed of sound in 10 seconds and around four times the speed of sound in under 30 seconds, all while powered by a clean and safe hybrid rocket motor.

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Travelling at over 3,000 miles an hour, the G-force surge will push Alan back into his seat as he heads into the black sky and a maximum altitude of about 75 miles above the earth’s surface. When the rocket motor shuts down, Alan and his five fellow astronauts will experience the silence of space and the magic of weightlessness. He will be able to see the curvature of the earth and 1,000 miles in any direction. He will also see the atmosphere protecting the earth.

He will be able to leave his seat and float in zero gravity before the spacecraft returns to earth, passing safely back into the atmosphere without significant heat build-up thanks to the unique wing feathering technology, and making a normal runway landing.

Alan Watts , the first frequent flyer to go to space, commented:

“I saved up my flying club miles to go round the world with Virgin Atlantic - with this journey to space, I’ll get to see the curvature of it too! It’s going to offer the best view in the world, and I can’t wait to make history. The nearest I’ve come to space before was going on the Space Mountain ride in Florida.”

Sir Richard Branson, chairman of Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic, said:

“When we first contacted Alan to let him know he had qualified for this unique offer I think he thought it was a prank call!  Alan travels a lot but a few weeks ago he never imagined that he would be planning a trip that would be so out of this world!” 

“Personally I am delighted that we have made it possible for Alan to do something that previously he had never dreamed was possible for him, which is what Virgin Galactic is all about - turning seemingly impossible dreams into a wonderful reality.”

Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club is renowned as one of the most generous loyalty programmes in the industry offering more miles, great rewards and offers with Virgin Atlantic and its partners. With Flying Club members can not only spend their miles on reward flights, upgrades and limo transfers but also on car hire, hotel breaks, holidays and an exciting range of leisure activities.  Up until now the top reward was a break on Sir Richard Branson’s private island of Necker in the Caribbean which requires one million miles.

Virgin Atlantic’s Flying Club enables one cardholder per year, who has earned two million miles or more through flying on Virgin Atlantic or spending on the Virgin Atlantic credit card, to venture into space.

Virgin Galactic is a company established by Richard Branson’s Virgin Group to undertake the challenge of developing space tourism for everybody.  It will own and operate privately built spaceships, modeled on the history-making SpaceShipOne craft. These spaceships will allow affordable sub-orbital space tourism for the first time in our history.  Every customer of Virgin Galactic will be helping the development of a new industry and technology that will provide safe, commercially viable and environmentally friendly access to space..

Virgin’s experience in aviation, adventure, luxury travel and cutting-edge design will be vital in contributing to the design of the spaceship, the smooth operation of the spaceline and creating an unforgettable experience unlike any other available to mankind.
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