‘On top of the world’: No hint of nervousness for A&B’s first space traveller

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson surprised Keisha Schahaff with the news at her home in Antigua in early November (Photos contributed)
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By Latrishka Thomas

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Plunging into the depths beyond our planet is a scary thought for many because anything could go wrong, but the Antiguan who is set to embark on the once in a lifetime experience of travelling into space says, “I don’t have any hesitance whatsoever”.

Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Ana will make history by becoming the first astronauts from Antigua and Barbuda.

Schahaff entered the Virgin Galactic and Omaze Sweepstakes in July, and won two tickets worth $450,000 each from space tourism company Virgin Galactic.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson surprised Schahaff, a health and energy coach, with the news at her home in Antigua in early November and Schahaff decided that she would share the opportunity with her 17-year-old daughter, a science student living in Britain who dreams of one day working for NASA.

Schahaff said she is literally “on top of the world” as she continues to pinch herself into realising that her dream has become a reality.

Speaking on Observer AM yesterday, she said that she isn’t scared or nervous at all.

“Actually, no, I don’t even think about. I’m 100 percent focused on that; 100 percent excited on that,” she said.

The lucky woman said she is still “bathing in excitement” as she begins signing forms and learning about the next steps.

“I still have quite a journey before I actually get there, so I can’t say that I’m doing anything really. I’m still in the beginning stage where I’m just processing what’s actually happening,” she shared.

She explained that it was while she was on a flight from Antigua to London that she saw the “opportunity opened up in a lottery” and she participated with low expectations.

Now, having won, Schahaff said that she is excited to “look back, see Earth, see the stars, see what’s actually out there, and not just what is taught to you in books and just to bathe in the energy of that other side”.

She explained that training for the journey – the exact date of which is yet to be confirmed – has not yet begun.

“I’m looking forward to beginning that training process when it opens up and ready for me. So far, it’s not quite ready in that aspect as yet. Basically, what I’m doing is looking at videos that are being sent to me, or recommended that I need to look at so I can learn more about the craft and that kind of stuff and then initial training will start when it is advised.”

Schahaff won the prize after entering a fundraiser lottery organised by Virgin Galactic on the Omaze platform, which raised $1.7 million.

The money is donated to the NGO Space for Humanity, which works to provide wider access to space.

The amount she donated was not made public, but entry started with a minimum contribution of $10.

The drive attracted nearly 165,000 participants in eight weeks, Virgin Galactic said in a statement.

Schahaff will be among the first of Virgin Galactic’s space tourists, but her place in the line is yet to be determined, a company spokesperson said.

Virgin Galactic has already pre-sold some 700 space tickets: 600 between 2005 and 2014, and another 100 since August when they were relisted for a price of $450,000.

Their aim is to sell 1,000 in total before the launch of commercial flights, the first of which is to take place in late 2022.

The proposed trip offers only a few minutes in zero gravity. A giant carrier plane takes off from a traditional runway carrying the space vessel that looks like a large private jet and then releases it at altitude.

The space plane then ignites its own rocket engine until it exceeds 50 miles (80 kilometres) in altitude — the limit of space, according to the US military — before gliding back to the runway.

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