Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson surprised Keisha S., 44, from Antigua, with news that she and a person of her choice are getting a free trip to space.
Kiesha won a sweepstakes with Omaze, an American for-profit fundraising company, for a once-in-a-lifetime commercial trip to the final frontier aboard Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22.
The sweepstakes kicked off in July following Virgin Galactic’s historic mission that took Branson to space and finished on September 1.
To enter, people had to make a donation to Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization that is sponsoring Citizen Astronaut Program.
The giveaway drew donations from 164,338 people worldwide who donated $1.7 million and now the winner has finally been revealed.
‘I’ve always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me,’ Keisha said in a statement.
‘It means the world to me. I hope to share this experience with my daughter so together we can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.’
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Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson (second from left) surprised Keisha S. (second from right), 44, from Antigua, with news that she and a person of her choice are getting a free trip to space. Here they are with Omaze CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson (left), and Space For Humanity executive director Rachel Lyons (right)
The sweepstakes was announced on July 11, the same day Branson and his entourage traveled 53.5 miles above Earth’s surface.
The Virgin Galactic founder wanted to share the amazing experience by giving someone a seat aboard one of the company’s first commercial spaceflights, which are set to start later next year.
The sweepstakes was also a fundraiser for the nonprofit Space for Humanity and those entering were asked to donate a minimum of $6,000 minimum per person.
However, entries could give as much as they wanted to the cause.
Kiesha won a sweepstakes with Omaze, an American for-profit fundraising company, for a once-in-a-lifetime commercial trip to the final frontier aboard Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22
‘I’ve always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me,’ Keisha said. ‘It means the world to me. I hope to share this experience with my daughter so together we can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams’
‘Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,’ Branson shared in a press release.
‘It was remarkable to be there for the beginning of Keisha’s journey to space; she is an extraordinary person who is already inspiring people with the work she does to support women in her home of Antigua and Barbuda.
‘This experience will provide another platform for her to inspire many more people into the future.’
The sweepstakes was announced on July 11, the same day Branson and his entourage traveled 53.5 miles above Earth’s surface (pictured)
Branson became the first billionaire in space this summer when he and five Virgin Galactic employees soared 280,000 feet above Earth’s surface aboard VSS Unity
Keisha will also join Virgin Galactic’s Future Astronaut community, as the first person from the Caribbean islands to got to space.
In addition to experiencing the wonder of space travel, Keisha will also receive a guided tour of Spaceport America, the world’s first purpose-built Spaceport in New Mexico, from Branson and the Virgin Galactic team.
This structure was designed and constructed specifically for commercial users.
Branson became the first billionaire in space this summer when he and five Virgin Galactic employees soared 280,000 feet above Earth’s surface aboard VSS Unity.
The crew reached speeds of Mach 3 on their way to the edge of space.
After a short spell during which they experienced weightlessness, the craft then pointed downwards and made its way back to the ground.
On the return flight, Branson hailed the ‘experience of a lifetime’ and the ‘hard, hard work’ that went into the flight.
THE BILLIONAIRE SPACE RACE: HOW BRANSON, MUSK AND BEZOS ARE VYING FOR GALACTIC SUPREMACY
Jeff Bezos in front of Blue Origin’s space capsule
Dubbed the ‘NewSpace’ set, Jeff Bezos, Sir Richard Branson and Elon Musk all say they were inspired by the first moon landing in 1969, when the US beat the Soviet Union in the space race, and there is no doubt how much it would mean to each of them to win the ‘new space race’.
Amazon founder Bezos had looked set to be the first of the three to fly to space, having announced plans to launch aboard his space company Blue Origin’s New Shepard spacecraft on July 20, but Branson beat him to the punch.
The British billionaire became Virgin Galactic Astronaut 001 when he made it to space on a suborbital flight nine days before Bezos – on July 11 in a test flight.
Bezos travelled to space on July 20 with his younger brother Mark, Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old physics student whose dad purchased his ticket, and pioneering female astronaut Wally Funk, 82.
Although SpaceX and Tesla founder Musk has said he wants to go into space, and even ‘die on Mars’, he has not said when he might blast into orbit – but has purchased a ticket with Virgin Galactic for a suborbital flight.
SpaceX became the first of the ‘space tourism’ operators to send a fully civilian crew into orbit, with the Inspiration4 mission funded by billionaire Jared Isaacman.
His flight was on a Dragon capsule and SpaceX rocket built by space-obsessed billionaire, Elon Musk and took off for the three day orbital trip on September 16 – going higher than the International Space Station.
SpaceX appears to be leading the way in the broader billionaire space race with numerous launches carrying NASA equipment to the ISS and partnerships to send tourists to space by 2021.
On February 6 2018, SpaceX sent rocket towards the orbit of Mars, 140 million miles away, with Musk’s own red Tesla roadster attached.
Elon Musk with his Dragon Crew capsule
SpaceX has also taken two groups of astronauts to the |International Space Station, with crew from NASA, ESA and JAXA, the Japanese space agency.
SpaceX has been sending batches of 60 satellites into space to help form its Starlink network, which is already in beta and providing fast internet to rural areas.
Branson and Virgin Galactic are taking a different approach to conquering space. It has repeatedly, and successfully, conducted test flights of the Virgin Galactic’s Unity space plane.
The first took place in December 2018 and the latest on May 22, with the flight accelerating to more than 2,000 miles per hour (Mach 2.7).
More than 600 affluent customers to date, including celebrities Brad Pitt and Katy Perry, have reserved a $250,000 (£200,000) seat on one of Virgin’s space trips. The final tickets are expected to cost $350,000.
Branson has previously said he expects Elon Musk to win the race to Mars with his private rocket firm SpaceX.
Richard Branson with the Virgin Galactic craft
SpaceShipTwo can carry six passengers and two pilots. Each passenger gets the same seating position with two large windows – one to the side and one overhead.
The space ship is 60ft long with a 90inch diameter cabin allowing maximum room for the astronauts to float in zero gravity.
It climbs to 50,000ft before the rocket engine ignites. SpaceShipTwo separates from its carrier craft, White Knight II, once it has passed the 50-mile mark.
Passengers become ‘astronauts’ when they reach the Karman line, the boundary of Earth’s atmosphere.
The spaceship will then make a suborbital journey with approximately six minutes of weightlessness, with the entire flight lasting approximately 1.5 hours.
Bezos revealed in April 2017 that he finances Blue Origin with around $1 billion (£720 million) of Amazon stock each year.
The system consists of a pressurised crew capsule atop a reusable ‘New Shepard’ booster rocket.
At its peak, the capsule reached 65 miles (104 kilometres), just above the official threshold for space and landed vertically seven minutes after liftoff.
Blue Origin are working on New Glenn, the next generation heavy lift rocket, that will compete with the SpaceX Falcon 9.