The chai latte served in Spaceport America's Gateway to Space in New Mexico is just as wonderful as Virgin Galactic employees have promised that this would be the case.
Yes, Sparkling Sweet Tea is delicious, but the signal it triggers in the pleasure center of my brain is only part of the experience. The server that runs Barista Island masters not only foam, but also service and small conversations. And the island itself is an aesthetic treat consisting of a backlit white marble countertop. The dose of caffeine and the shiny surface combine to create the warmest, most fuzzy and imaginable awakening.
Virgin Galactic's numbers are such that your morning should start the day you leave Earth for the first time.that his home at Spaceport is now operational and has welcomed members of the media and dignitaries as his first official guests.
Barista Island is the centerpiece of the Gaia level on the ground floor, but my eyes are drawn to the two-story windows that make up the east façade of the Gateway to Space building.
"You already have almost the impression of being weightless," says Jeremy Brown, design director of Virgin Galactic, guiding us down the hall that leads from the building's gigantic hangar to the Gaia lounge.
The landscape on the other side of the glass is a classic desert where the southwest meets the interplanetary future. The dark mountains of San Andres are home to several acres of scrubland under an intense blue sky. The foreground is dominated by the wide apron, taxiway and runway where Virgin Galactic's double-fuselage transporter VMS Eve periodically rises to the skies.
This awesome double jet flies without the surface of the rocket, it is designed to carry today, Eve is making touch-and-gos as part of its ongoing testing protocol for commercial passenger transport in orbit as early as this year.
Standing in the middle of a very empty desert, looking empty, and looking at C's is as if the Gateway to Space and its resplendent windows were a set of augmented reality glasses of the size of. a building superimposing this vision of the cosmic future on a landscape more of the 19th century than of the 21st century.
But all the scenery All the pilots, the Virgin Galactic astronauts and the operations managers who do their business are as real as the hot cup of the winery in my hand.
I surprise Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides, standing at the end of the interactive gateway between the shed and apron that lights up with every step. I ask him the inevitable question of when the first commercial customer could
"This milestone (of declaring Functionally Operational Gateway to Space) is important to keep us on track," he told me.
And on the right track means that the founder of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, and his other initial passengers will be put into orbit within a few months, not years.
Mr. Whitesides said commercial launches would begin within a year. He told me Thursday that he was still comfortable with this projection.
Lost in the Desert
Until recently, the quiet Spaceport was the target of jokes in New Mexico and beyond. This does not help the Gateway to Space building look like an abandoned alien spacecraft in the desert.
Over the last 15 years, Spaceport America has gone from dreaming to reality to a nightmare, as it was virtually empty in the New Mexico desert many years after its completion in 2011.
Like so many space companies, Spaceport America, a state-owned and publicly-funded facility, and Virgin Galactic have experienced cost overruns, technical difficulties, and disappointing deadlines. The darkest moment came in 2014 whenin the California desert during tests, killing one of the co-drivers.
But the outlook has changed in recent months. as Virgin Galactic recovered fully from its tragic incident and began moving its operations from the Mojave Desert to New Mexico.
"It's all very real," said Stephen Attenborough, commercial director of Virgin Galactic.
He added that the VMS Eve would soon return to California to board the VSS Unity, the commercial astronauts of the spacecraft would join him and transport him to his permanent home at the Spaceport. Attenborough predicts that Spaceport America will house two planes and five spaceships in ten years.
In a corner of the hangar, the company hopes to be able to later use eight rocket engines stored in large crates. His backlog of reservations, which began 15 years ago, will require a lot of power. More than 600 passengers from more than 60 countries filed a deposit to travel in space with Virgin at a price of $ 250,000 (£ 205,800, AU $ 368,375) per seat.
Lost in Dessert
Virgin's commercial passengers will spend a few days training at Spaceport to prepare for their orbit journey of about 90 minutes. Then the big day, they will gather with their family, their friends, the pilots and the support staff here around Barista Island for a gourmet meal like the one I share with Spaceport's CEO, Dan Hicks, in the Gaia lounge.
Lifetime official who spent three decades in the US military occupying leadership positions in the adjacent White Sands missile battlefield before being appointed to his current position in 2016 by the New Mexico Spaceport Authority.
Friendly and competent, Hicks can talk at length about the different launch profiles possible from this humble place in the desert. He speculates that it might be wise for SpaceX to launch its rockets from here and then pose them at the company's facilities in Texas. The same goes for Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos, who also has a test center in West Texas.
When our dessert dish arrives – a glass of raspberry sorbet served on a bubbling ship of carbonic ice – I ask Hicks about the criticism that Spaceport is primarily used to subsidize space vacations rich people with taxpayer money.
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