If you want to become a pioneer, braving the cosmos as one of the first “regular” people to experience space travel through Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, it’s going to cost you.
At least Branson is including a small extra as part of the $250,000 price tag for the voyage: “I think we’re throwing the space suit in for that money.”
That custom suit, along with outer space footwear, will be made by Under Armour, as part of a partnership the two companies announced Thursday.
“Going to space, you’re becoming an astronaut — you need to not only feel good about it but also look good,” Branson told USA TODAY during an interview alongside Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank. “This will be the day in somebody’s life that they’re going to remember the most, apart from having kids or getting married.”
Part of Branson’s Virgin Group, Virgin Galactic’s origins date back to 2004. Branson’s goal is to take passengers on an ultimate joy ride, some 50 miles above the Earth. The company’s stated mission is to “democratize space,” and eventually run a regular schedule of flights for private individuals and researchers from an operational hub in New Mexico. If all goes well, commercial travel will begin this summer, when Branson himself heads into space.
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Branson and Plank met eight years ago at a conference on Branson’s private Necker Island in the British Virgin Islands, and formed a friendship that led to the collaboration.
Neither Plank nor Branson were ready to share pictures of the new space duds, or dive too deeply into specifics of the design.
According to Plank, “All the technology and innovation we’re effectively putting into the space suits, with some limitations around some things we have to specifically do for fire retardancy… are things we’re already doing or are coming to market in 2019-2020.”
Woven into the garments, for example, will be temperature-regulated fabrics as well as a new technology that can increase blood flow and, in some cases, give an athlete, or astronaut, more energy or help them recover.
Plank mentioned that Tom Brady, the quarterback for the New England Patriots, wears pajama’s containing some of this technology.
Under Armour is also providing garments for Virgin engineers, astronaut trainers and others members of the team that is supporting flights from the New Mexico command center.
Under Armour will be leveraging the work it does with athletes to also help prepare astronauts for the physical challenges around mobility, strength, fitness, nutrition and sleep.
You can’t afford the trip yet
Virgin Galactic’s waiting list to travel numbers 600 and Branson, who is 68, has been getting in shape for the inaugural flight he hopes will take place this summer. “I’ve spent the last few months trying to get to the fitness I was when I was in my 20s,” Branson said. “I’ve got a six-pack for the first time in my life.”
Branson’s ambitions for private space travel are famously shared by fellow billionaires Elon Muskand Jeff Bezos.
On Dec. 13, Virgin completed a successful test flight, the first human spacecraft to be launched from the U.S. soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. Virgin has at least two to three more test flights to come. But the flight path to the final frontier has had tragic consequences in the past. Back in 2014, the crash of a Virgin Galactic test ship killed one of the two pilots.
It will be quite some time before folks with way more modest bank accounts can afford the journey.
“The fare …in the short term it’s likely to stay expensive,” Branson says. “If it’s as successful as we hope and believe it will be, and we can build many many spaceships, then hopefully by the time your children reach the age of 20, 21, the price will have come down so many more people will have a chance to become astronauts and go to space.”
Plank seemed a bit more hesitant about flying into space himself, though Branson joked that “Kevin will be going up with us whether he likes it or not.”
Are any of Under Armour’s stable of star athletes interested in space travel?
Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors recently caused a social media uproar when he “joked” that the moon landing wasn’t real. “Buzz Aldrin wanted his address,” Branson quipped.
Curry accepted a NASA invitation when the Warriors were in Houston to play the Rockets.
“(Steph) is someone we can perhaps talk about getting on the flight, although I don’t think Coach (Steve) Kerr would be too excited about putting him into orbit,” Plank said.
For those who do eventually fly with Virgin, the entire journey from lift off into space to landing back in New Mexico will take about an hour and a half. There’s room on the spaceship for six passengers and two pilots; once the ship is 50 miles up and in space, passengers will be able to unbuckle, float around and admire the home planet through a dozen big portholes.
Says Branson: “It definitely will be the experience of a lifetime for anybody who would like to do it.”
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