U of M professor plans her future spaceflight with Virgin Galactic

One starry-eyed Manitoba scientist will be heading to space as a future passenger on a Virgin Galactic spaceship.

University of Manitoba professor emeritus Judy Anderson has already made a down payment for her spot on billionaire Richard Branson’s spaceship. After witnessing his first voyage into space on Sunday, Anderson says it brought back fond memories witnessing other space travel. 

“It was pretty exciting generally. I was actually surprised how excited I was by the end of it. It brought me back to what it was like watching moon launches and space walks and things like that.”

As an official future passenger, Anderson was given Virtual Reality goggles to get used to the idea of travelling in space. 

“They sent them to us for a week, pre-programmed what we could see inside the capsule we’re going to go in. What the seats look like, how many windows there are, looking out the windows, and then touring their space port a little bit.”

The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo space plane Unity and mothership separate as they fly way above Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico on July 11, 2021 on the way to the cosmos. (Patrick T. Fallon/AFP/Getty Images)

Dreams coming true

Anderson says she’s always had an interest in space, starting from childhood.

“Right from the moment [Yuri] Gagarin went up in space, I remember my parents and I listened on the radio to that, and I think when TV came in we watched the first documentary about it,” she said.

“It was so exciting and right from then, I thought, wouldn’t it be fantastic to go up in space, and look at the earth and float in the air. It was just something that would be so neat.”

Anderson has been saving funds for the trip for the last 11 years. She also applied to be an astronaut in the early 90s, but was eventually cut after many selection rounds. So far, she has put forth a $20,000 down payment — which is just a chunk of the total cost. 

“Nobody else is going partly because the money is not just sitting around. A half a million dollars is a lot of money. That said, I think I could convince my husband to go with me if a ticket came up.”

In regard to the climate footprint of heading into space, Anderson says it’s a calculated risk. 

“You can say that you’ve lived a frugal life … we’ve done our share of jetting off, but really we have kind of husbanded our resources and not spent so lavishly that we hope we haven’t left too bad a footprint,” she said.

“There’s a lot of angles on ethics. Some of the people who want everybody to be careful about climate change are also doing the jet-setting things. It’s really tough, those are big issues for sure.”

Out-of-this-world plans

Anderson’s passenger number is 623. She says with six people launching at a time, that’s about a hundred flights or so until it’s her turn. She notes Virgin Galactic will be starting commercial flights early next year, with plans to have a second spaceship ready for final testing.

She expects most likely it’ll be another two-year wait to become space-bound, though she’s already planning her flight.

“I’m going to stay tuned to the planning announcements more closely. I have to stay in shape and save the rest of the money,” she said. 

For now, it’s a dream in progress that Anderson credits to the pioneers of space exploration.

“Science is marvelous and this would not have been possible without those early space flights, and a lot of people investing a lot of energy into making it possible to have that dream come true.”

Richard Branson, owner of the space-tourism company Virgin Galactic, takes in the view after going into space. (Virgin Galactic)

Read more at CBC.ca