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Virgin Galactic to send an Emirati into space

Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic plans to put an Emirati on its SpaceShipTwo for its first commercial space voyage.

July 9, 2014 4:42 by

By Tola Onasanya

The British-based multinational venture capital conglomerate teams up with Abu Dhabi’s Aabar Investments PJS to send one lucky UAE national into sub-orbital space. The opportunities to go into the upper stretches of the atmosphere, and experience zero gravity, will be given to the winner of a competition, details of which are to be released at a later date. The competition, which is exclusively for Emiratis, will be run by the International Petroleum Investment Company (IPIC), the parent company of Aabar.

Aabar owns a “significant” stake in Virgin Galactic, states CEO and president [of Galactic], George Whitesides. This considerable buy-in by the investment firm, which sees Aabar controlling nearly a third of the spaceflight company, means that Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism venture has been given a financial helping hand. As a result, Abu Dhabi will have exclusive regional rights to Virgin Galactic space tourism and scientific research flights taking off from the capital.

Space tourism may not be so far off for the Middle East: Virgin, in tandem with Aabar has already appointed a chief advisor for the spaceport that is to be built in Abu Dhabi. Steve Landeene was the executive director of Spaceport America in New Mexico. Between 2007 and 2010, he oversaw the development of Virgin Galactic’s operational hub and the world’s first commercial spaceport. Appointed on April 17th 2012, Mr Landeene has already been endorsed by Mohamed Badawy Al-Husseiny, CEO of Aabar, who said: “We are pleased that someone with Steve’s exceptional experience in aerospace and spaceport development has agreed to spearhead this exciting and important vision for the project.”

Reservations for the inaugural commercial sub-space flight are available to the public as of now, and cost $250,000. Virgin has reported that customers from 58 countries and some noteworthy celebrities, such as Professor Stephen Hawking and Tom Hanks, have bought tickets. The company has taken approximately $80 million in deposits.

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