Virgin Galactic flight into space with Richard Branson: Melbourne man Scott Copeland set to fly next year
Scott Copeland has been waiting seven years to fly into space with Virgin Galactic. He may not have to wait much longer.
The 52-year-old banker from Templestowe in Melbourne stayed up late on Sunday night to watch billionaire Sir Richard Branson fly into space for the first time on board the rocket ship Unity.
“The most emotional part for me was the minute the wheels hit the runway and they landed,” he said. “That just signified that the whole trip was a success and they’re ready to move forward. That was really emotional, to be honest.”
Copeland is set to follow the Virgin founder into space after winning a competition in 2014 run by Virgin Australia. The prize? A flight into space valued at $US250,000 ($A334,000).
After dreaming of flying into space since he was a child, Copeland’s dreams are now approaching reality.
“It feels totally real now and it feels like it’s imminent,” he said.
Branson, along with five other crew members, soared 86 kilometres above New Mexico early on Monday (AEST) after taking off from Spaceport America. Carried by a mothership to 14,000 metres, Unity then blasted at supersonic speeds to its apex, where the rocket was shut down and the crew unbuckled to enjoy floating in microgravity for a few minutes. The entire trip took about an hour.
It was the culmination of 17 years’ work for the entrepreneur who plans to launch a new era of space tourism.
“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth,” Branson said in a video from space.
Back in Melbourne, Copeland is looking forward to realising his own dream.
“Even when I won in 2014, the Virgin Galactic program had been running for five or six years already and they were making really good progress. Then only about three months after I’d won they had the big setback in Mojave.”
That setback was the loss of a Virgin Galactic test flight over California’s Mojave Desert, which left a pilot dead.
“I never gave up hope that I’d go, I just realised that it was going to take a bit longer than what the original timeline was,” Copeland said.
Copeland won the competition by telling Virgin Australia that, if he won, he’d track down his old primary school teacher who told him in 1976, aged 10, his dreams of becoming an astronaut were unrealistic.
After winning the competition, he did it.
“I was amazed she actually remembered me,” he said. “She remembered how obsessed with space travel I was.”
Video: Branson flies into space
Copeland doesn’t yet know when his flight will be, but believes dates for commercial operations, which are set to begin in 2022, will start to firm up in coming weeks.
“I don’t know where I am in the queue, because there’s about 700 or 800 people that have paid, but I think I’m in the front half of that queue,” he said.
“When I see the first batch of paying astronauts go, that’s when I’ll really know my time is almost here.”
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