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Visit to Spaceport America 17.10.2011

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Saturday 12/17/11

The latest issue of the ”Tekniikan Maailma”, the most appreciated Finnish magazine on the technology field, came out at the end of November 2011 covering my article of the visit to Spaceport America, and now I can finally write and publish some pictures here on my website.

I spent a night in Las Crucas, New Mexico, which is the nearest major city close to Spaceport America. The registration for the event took place at the hotel 06:00 the next morning. There were total about 800 persons: future astronauts and their friends, media representatives, students, and employees of the companies involved in the project. 

A two-hour bus ride took us to the sunny Spaceport America. In New Mexico, there are more than 350 sunny days a year, and the day of the visit was one of them. The temperature in the morning was already over 20 degrees Celcius (over 70 in Fahrenheit).  We were offered something to eat and we were given some time to go around and just wonder what the airport was all about. The opening speeches were given by the Governor of New Mexico and by Sir Richard Branson. While they talked, WhiteKnightTwo took off for a flight carrying SpaceShipTwo in her “belly”. The flight lasted for half an hour, with several ascents and descents. It was amazing, very impressive! When the aircraft had landed, we could have a closer look at her, could not, however get inside. A lunch was catered in the hangar. After the lunch, it was time for the speeches, the CEO of Virgin Galactic, George Whitesides, the Governor of New Mexico, some New Mexico officials, and finally Sir Branson again. Speeches were not too long and we gave them a big hand every now and then. The name of the most famous of the astronauts attending here, was Buzz Aldrin. The inauguration ceremony took place after the speeches and we had glasses of champagne to celebrate the occasion. The event closed at 14:00 and we were taken by buses back to Las Cruces.
We were invited to another cocktail reception in the evening, this was hosted by Aston Martin. I did not, however, come to buy a car, I was happy enough just enjoying the party.

I spent two days at the event. It was really interesting to see the airport and the aircrafts, as well as to meet the other astronauts. I got acquainted e.g. with English, Russian, Canadian, Swedish, Danish and Icelandic “colleagues”. Each had his or her own story to tell why they wanted to go into the space. Gisli Gislason from Iceland is a very joyful person, with him I later exchanged some pictures and videos. He will be the first Icelandic astronaut ever. Many people I talked with, are obviously quite wealthy. For instance, when I asked one Englishman about his opinion about Aston Martin vehicle, he replied that he rather drives his own Bentley.

These millionaires seemed to be openly amused by the fact that I am probably the only person who has received some money back from Virgin Galactic. And how? George Whitesides bought from me two T-shirts, with a Finnish text “Suomalainen Astronautti”, for$ 80. One of the T-shirts I gave to Sir Branson, and I naturally explained to him what that the text said , that is “Finnish Astronaut”. I suggested that he should wear the t-shirt at The Nordic Business Forum to be held in Jyväskylä, Finland, next September, where he will be one of the KeyNoteSpeakers. He will certainly include Virgin Galactic in his presentation, as this seems to be his favorite child.

And what’s up now? I need to be patient and wait for the next move. Virgin Galactic will continue with rocket engine testing, all the rest is already pretty much ready to go. Perhaps next year this time I will receive another invitation to visit Spaceport America. The Branson family has planned to take the first space flight then. In that party there will be enough of champagne, that’s for sure.

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