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Virgin Galactic announces winner of free trip to suborbital space

From left, Omaze CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Omaze winner Keisha S., and Space for Humanity Executive Director Rachel Lyons congratulate Keisha at her home in Antigua.
From left, Omaze CEO and co-founder Matt Pohlson, Virgin Group founder Richard Branson, Omaze winner Keisha S., and Space for Humanity Executive Director Rachel Lyons congratulate Keisha at her home in Antigua. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic just gave out two free rides to the final frontier.

The spaceflight company and the charity fundraising platform Omaze announced today (Nov. 24) that Keisha S., a health and energy coach from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda, has won two seats aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity space plane.

That's a $900,000 value; Virgin Galactic is currently selling seats for $450,000 apiece.

In photos: Virgin Galactic's 1st fully crewed spaceflight with Richard Branson

Keisha plans to fly to space and back with her daughter, an astrophysics student.

“I’ve always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me,” Keisha said in a statement. “It means the world to me. I hope to share this experience with my daughter, so together we can inspire the next generation to follow their dreams.”

Virgin Galactic and Omaze unveiled the sweepstakes in July, just after Unity flew its first fully crewed spaceflight. That mission, known as Unity 22, sent Virgin Group founder Richard Branson and three other crewmembers, along with two pilots, to suborbital space from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

Each dollar donated to the sweepstakes via Omaze bought 10 entries. The contest, which ran through Aug. 31, drew donations from 164,338 people around the world and raised a projected $1.7 million, Virgin Galactic representatives said. 

The money will benefit the nonprofit Space for Humanity's Citizen Astronaut Program (CAP). This program invites people from a variety of backgrounds to "apply for an opportunity to go to space and experience the Overview Effect: the cognitive shift in awareness that occurs when a human being looks down on the Earth from space," Space for Humanity wrote in a CAP description.

"Each year, a new crew is selected from a diverse group of leaders from around the globe," they added. "Upon their return, each citizen astronaut has a commitment to leveraging that experience for the collective good."

Space for Humanity founder Dylan Taylor will fly to space soon, by the way — but not with Virgin Galactic. Taylor is one of the six crewmembers on the next mission of Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle, which is scheduled to launch Dec. 9 from West Texas. 

Among Taylor's crewmates are Good Morning America host and former NFL star Michael Strahan and Laura Shepard Churchley, the daughter of Alan Shepard, who in 1961 became the first American to reach space. (New Shepard is named after him.)

Virgin Galactic and Omaze did not announce a target date for the flight that will carry Keisha S. and her daughter. But it won't happen for a while yet; Virgin Galactic is performing maintenance and enhancement work on VSS Unity's carrier plane, VMS Eve, and the duo likely won't fly together again until mid-2022, company representatives have said.

(Eve carries the six-passenger Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet, or 15,000 meters. Unity then separates, fires up its rocket motor and makes its own way to suborbital space.)

Mike Wall is the author of "Out There" (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Karl Tate), a book about the search for alien life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or on Facebook

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Mike Wall

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with Space.com and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.