Virgin Galactic Reveals the Winner of Free Trip to Space

Virgin Galactic has just announced the winner of its sweepstake with the top prize of a free suborbital space ride on a rocket-powered plane. The lucky winner is Keisha S., a health and life coach and former flight attendant from Antigua in the Caribbean. The prize includes two seats -- worth £450,000 each -- so Keisha will take along her daughter, a student studying astrophysics.

Aiming to squeeze as much publicity out of the sweepstake as possible, Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, who himself took a test flight aboard the company's VSS Unity rocket plane in July, presented Keisha with news of the prize in person. A delighted Keisha said: "I've always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me." She added: "I hope to share this experience with my daughter so together we can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams."

From left: Omaze CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson, Sir Richard Branson, Omaze winner Keisha, and Space For Humanity Executive Director Rachel Lyons congratulate Keisha at her home in Antigua. Virgin Galactic

So what kind of experience awaits Keisha and her daughter?

Well, the trip will begin with Unity attached to the VMS Eve carrier plane. Eve will fly to an altitude of around 50,000 feet (about 15,000 meters) before releasing Unity, which will then fire up its rocket to blast the plane and passengers to an altitude of around 283,000 feet (about 86,000 meters). They'll then experience a short period of weightlessness where they can float around the cabin and enjoy incredible views of Earth.

A gentle descent will end with a runway landing. No date has been set for the flight, though it's unlikely to happen until the end of 2022 at the earliest as Virgin Galactic is carrying out further testing on Eve and Unity. The sweepstake was organized by fundraising platform Omaze and ran from July to September.

Entrants were asked to make a donation to the nonprofit Space for Humanity charity. More than 164,000 people from around the world entered the contest, with donations totaling around £1.7 million. The proceeds will benefit Space for Humanity's Citizen Astronaut Program that's designed to provide a path for more people to experience space travel.

But what exactly constitutes space travel is the subject of ongoing debate, with Virgin Galactic and rival space tourism provider Blue Origin in disagreement about where Earth's atmosphere ends and space starts.

Either way, the experience offered by both companies is one passengers are likely to dine out on for many years after arriving back on terra firma.

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