A Pioneer in Space Tourism
January 21, 2012
The spaceship’s rocket ignites at 50,000 feet above the earth. In a matter of seconds, the craft accelerates to 2,500 mph—over three times the speed of sound— pinning passengers to their seats. Cobalt blue skies fade to black outside large viewing windows. The rocket engine shuts off, its roar replaced by instant quiet.
As passengers unbuckle to experience the freedom of weightlessness, some attempt a graceful somersault.
For Virgin Galactic, this is the future of commercial space travel. Safety is key, of course—and extensive flight-testing is well under way.
“A smooth, carefree reentry is essential,” says Tony Poe, an accredited space agent for Virgin Galactic. He says the spaceship’s unique wings will fold up into a 90-degree angle, creating a massive amount of drag. This, in turn, will keep the fuselage stable, allowing it to safely reenter the earth’s atmosphere, much like a shuttlecock.
Poe recently traveled to Las Cruces, New Mexico, for the dedication of Virgin Galactic’s Gateway to Space, a combined terminal and hangar facility designed by famed architect Sir Norman Foster. It will house the company’s astronaut preparation and celebration facilities, a mission control center, and a friends-and-family area.
In the bright New Mexico sunlight, Poe watched as Virgin Galactic’s spacecraft put on a show above 800 enthusiastic onlookers. “At one point, a pair of conjoined vehicles disappeared then came roaring into sight above the crowd. It was thrilling.”
In 2007, Poe jumped at the chance to join the Virtuoso travel network’s sales and marketing partnership with Virgin Galactic. Now employed by Virtuoso, he supports a team of 84 international accredited space agents, including Marc Casto B.A. ’97. The opportunity arose while he was head of marketing for Poe Travel, his family’s boutique agency.
“The new race to space is no longer about beating out a superpower; it’s about making space exploration safe and viable,” says Poe. “These pioneers are paving the way for the rest of us. I’m proud to be part of this history-making mission.”
Poe hopes commercial flights will begin within the next two years. Tickets currently cost $200,000 and require a minimum deposit of $20,000. To date, more than 450 travelers have signed up.
“People can change their minds for any reason and get back all but 5 percent of their deposits,” says Poe. “The financial risk is minimal.”
The experience, however, is still intangible, says Poe. Rather that trying to sell it, he works to educate people about this unrivaled travel adventure. His enthusiasm is palpable.
“Virgin Galactic ‘astronauts’ span the spectrum, from pilots who fly professionally to people who watched the first man walk on the moon, but they all share an incredible passion for space travel,” says Poe.
His association with Virgin Galactic mirrors his travel philosophy.
“My passion is going off the grid to places most people wouldn’t consider, like North Korea and far eastern regions of Russia,” he says. “I like to see, feel, and taste everything.” The cultural insights he gained while studying international affairs at Lewis & Clark have served him well, helping him earn the respect of travel professionals, clients, and contacts around the globe.
He dreams that his dedication will be rewarded.
“I can’t personally afford a flight into space,” he says, “but I’m hoping that my performance in the program might eventually earn me a ride.”
—by Pattie Pace