Elegant Resorts prepares to sell Virgin Galactic space flights

Elegant Resorts prepares to sell Virgin Galactic space flights

As one of the four Elegant Resorts staff given the job of selling the Virgin Galactic programme in the UK, product manager Justine Pitt found herself having one of her stranger experiences in travel: being spun around to recreate the g-forces encountered while breaking the earth's atmosphere.

She said: "When I got into the product team, I didn't expect to do anything like this. It is probably the most exciting thing I've ever done."

Justine was at the National AeroSpace Training and Research Center in Philadelphia where she was undergoing basic training in space travel.

While she admitted she had been unsure about space travel to begin with, everything changed the moment she experienced the NASTAR centrifuge, which is used to mimic intense g-forces.

Justine said: "When you come out of the centrifuge, you just want to get straight back in. It is the biggest adrenaline rush I have ever had.

"Until I experienced the centrifuge I wasn't sure that, if I had the opportunity to go up into space, I would do it. Now I know I would.

"If I ever won the lottery it would be the first thing I would book as it would be such an amazing experience."

Justine experienced the centrifuge in January 2008 as part of the training she has undertaken since Elegant Resorts was appointed Virgin Galactic's UK Accredited Space Agent in June 2007. This also led her to take responsibility for the programme.

As part of the ongoing training she has also spent a day at the International Space University in Strasbourg, France and in August last year visited the mothership WhiteKnightTwo at the spaceport in the Mojave Desert in California.

While Justine is still hoping to experience the ultimate thrill in space travel - weightlessness - as part of the training, she said more of her family and friends are coming to terms with the reality of Virgin Galactic's unique venture and the role she is playing in it.

She added: "People always look at you like you're mad to start with, but now they are beginning to see it is actually working and they think it is pretty exciting."

The UK remains the second biggest market for Virgin Galactic.

Head of astronaut sales Carolyn Wincer said about 45 Brits have paid the deposit, which starts at 10% of the $200,000 total for the trips, which should hopefully have lift-off in 2011.

This puts the UK behind the US, where 120 customers have paid to become space tourists, although Wincer said the Spanish and the Portuguese markets are also expanding.

She added: "There's a lot of trust in the Virgin brand in the UK. I don't think it is so much that people in the UK want to go into space more than the rest of the world, but they're more likely to spend their money with the brand.

"In places such as South America and Spain we have to build trust in the brand."

Wincer said about 200 people worldwide have signed up to the programme. There have been three successful test flights of the mothership WhiteKnightTwo, which will launch the spacecraft SpaceShipTwo.

However, SpaceShipTwo will undergo a year's worth of test flights before it is deemed safe for tourist flights.

Because of these factors, Wincer said it has proved vital to have UK tour operator Elegant Resorts appointed as its Accredited Space Agent.

She said: "It is a big wide world and it is difficult [for us] to cover all of it. It is a global product but it is such a complex sale you can't just fling it on the internet.

"Also the lead time [on the bookings] is so long. If you booked someone in 2007, you've got to keep them interested in it, bearing in mind the deposits are fully refundable, you really need to manage the client."

Flights will last two-and-a-half hours and will reach a maximum speed of about 2,500mph. SpaceShipTwo will carry six passengers and two pilots. There will be one flight per week to start with, increasing to one a day.

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