A wellness coach from Antigua and her daughter are getting tickets for a suborbital space trip, thanks to the latest in a line of out-of-this-world sweepstakes going back 20 years. And although not a single spaceflight sweepstakes winner has flown yet, there’s still significant value to such contests, financially and otherwise.
“Being able to give people of all ages and backgrounds equal access to space, and in turn, the opportunity to lead and inspire others back on Earth, is what Virgin Galactic has been building towards for the past two decades,” Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder, Richard Branson, said in a Nov. 24 news release.
Branson himself broke the good news to Keisha Schahaff at her home on the Caribbean island of Antigua. Schahaff had entered a contest arranged in collaboration with the Omaze online sweepstakes platform and a nonprofit group called Space for Humanity this summer. She ended up winning the random drawing. Her grand prize? Two tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket plane, plus terrestrial travel expenses.
“I’ve always had a lifelong love of flying and a fascination with space, and this is truly a dream come true for me,” Schahaff said. “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.”
In addition to the space ride, Schahaff and her daughter, an astrophysics student, are in line to get a personal tour of Spaceport America, SpaceShipTwo’s home base in New Mexico, with Branson as their guide.
It’s not clear exactly when the mother-and-daughter duo will get their spaceflight. They’ll join about 700 Virgin Galactic customers who have been waiting years to climb aboard SpaceShipTwo. Last month, the company announced that it won’t start commercial tours until late 2022, after a round of refurbishment and upgrades to SpaceShipTwo and its WhiteKnightTwo carrier airplane.
The Omaze charity sweepstakes will benefit Space for Humanity more immediately: More than 164,000 entrants sent in donations to participate in the contest, raising a projected total of $1.7 million in grants for Space for Humanity and its campaign to widen public access to spaceflight.
Space for Humanity is running its own selection process for a program it calls Humanity-1, which will provide training, accommodations and a ticket for a spaceflight to be named later.
Such programs aim to bring the thrill and awe of flying to outer space to folks who can’t spare the $450,000 for a Virgin Galactic suborbital flight, or the tens of millions of dollars required for an orbital trip. (The next suborbital trip for paying passengers is scheduled in December, courtesy of Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin space venture, while Axiom Space and SpaceX are planning the next commercial orbital trip in February.)
There’s often an additional public-relations objective that can be achieved whether or not the winner actually flies.
For example, consider one of the earliest space sweepstakes, which was organized in 2001 by British-based Bristol Spaceplanes. The contest publicized Bristol’s effort to win the $10 million Ansari X Prize for commercial spaceflight, and promoted membership in the venture’s fan club. One of the supporters, Andrew Hobson, won the promise of a trip on Bristol Spaceplanes’ Ascender suborbital spacecraft.
Other space sweepstakes winners include Doug Ramsburg, who won a Virgin Galactic ticket in 2005, in a contest sponsored by Volvo; and William Temple, who won a ride on Rocketplane Kistler’s suborbital space plane in 2007, in a contest sponsored by Microsoft and AMD.
Unfortunately for Temple, Rocketplane Kistler never got off the ground and went bankrupt in 2010. Ramsburg, meanwhile, is still earthbound, along with Virgin Galactic’s other would-be spacefliers.
In both those cases, however, there are earthly consolations: Along with his now-worthless space ticket, Temple received $50,000 in cash and a nice little stash of hardware, including a Dell PC and an Xbox 360. Ramsburg was given $100,000.
Schahaff could find herself in a similar position. If you look at the fine print for the Omaze sweepstakes, you’ll find that there’s a provision that calls for awarding her an alternative cash prize if Virgin Galactic can’t deliver on the space trip within 18 months. That alternative prize would have to equal or exceed the approximate retail value of the spaceflight package — which is a cool $510,000.