Imagine if you had $200,000 to spend on an out-of-this-world vacation. For the several hundred people on the waiting list at Virgin Galactic, that’s exactly what they’re willing to spend on a trip to outer space.

George Whitesides, CEO and President of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, spoke to students and faculty on Feb. 28 in the Pegasus Ballroom about the future of space flight and space tourism.

Virgin is making it possible for anyone to take a trip into space. The second you place a deposit and save your seat, you become a part of an exclusive club with access to all parts of the projects.

For $200,000 and a $20,000 deposit, anyone is able to travel into space.

According to Whitesides, there have only been about 500 people who have traveled to space. Virgin Galactic has already gotten more than 400 people signed up.

Even celebrities are signed up to take flight.

Katy Perry has signed up her husband, actor Russell Brand, to take a flight into space.

“That should be an interesting flight,” Whitesides joked.

He later said that a few other celebrities that he couldn’t name had also signed up and bands have inquired about being able to perform so they can be one of the first musicians to play in space.

The presentation wasn’t all jokes and celebrities, however.

Whitesides broke down the logistics of tourism in space and why space matters.

“It’s the first step on our pathway to the stars,” Whitesides said. “I honestly believe and I thought about this a lot, that space tourism is the root through which we’ll be able to access the solar system and eventually the rest of the galaxy.”

Virgin’s website mentioned that the people who have already experienced space travel had returned to earth with a heightened awareness of the nature and vulnerability of our planet.

Junior computer engineering major, Daniel Krummen, came to the presentation because he has always been personally interested in space. As an avid reader of Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins, two well-published astronomers, Krummen thought the presentation could give him greater insight on the exploration of space.

“I think that he has a really good point,” Krummen said. “That the commercialization of space flight is really the first step. You need people to realize that space is really important and the best way to do it is to get people up there.”

During the question and answer portion of the presentation, concerns were raised about the safety of space travel.

“Safety is Virgin Galactic’s North Star,” Whitesides said.

Scaled Composites is the designer and builders of the space launch system. They have been responsible for some of the experimental aircraft and have a safety record that is second to none, according to Whiteside.

“Every company will have challenges during a test flight plan so there will be incidents, and the hope is that those incidents aren’t catastrophic,” Whitesides said.

He also said that accidents are inevitable; his hope is that if anything happened it would be later on in the program after many successful flights.

Alicia Cooper, a junior fine arts major, waited in line to speak with Whitesides after the presentation. Her concern about safety was for the individuals who would be going into space.

“My concerning question is about health,” Cooper said. “What if people get up there and have panic attacks?”

She was also curious to know what the health requirements were for passengers looking to take a trip into space and if someone with health problems would be allowed to go.

Mechanical engineering student Jessica McWaters came to the presentation to learn more information that could better her future.

“I didn’t realize that tourism in space was the new frontier so that interested me,” McWaters said.

McWaters said she hopes to work for a company one day that works on spacecrafts.

“I would wait a little bit just to see what happens, [see] the successes [of space travel] and then decide to go up or not,” she said.

Whitesides mentioned that there is always a risk when traveling into space.

“If a person has the financial means and no fear,” he said, “heading into space could be in their future.”

Source: Central Florida Future, CEO of Virgin talks space, by Amy Foist, staff writer. Published: Wednesday, March 2, 2011; updated: Wednesday, March 2, 2011 17:03