Monday, September 9, 2013

Job openings at Virgin Galactic as countdown to space tourism begins

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The countdown has started for the launch of the Abu Dhabi-backed Virgin Galactic shuttle as a huge recruitment drive gets under way. Scores of eager jobseekers lined up at Virgin Galactic's spaceport in Mojave, California this weekend for a recruitment fair two days after the company carried out its second successful test flight. Virgin Galactic's pilots flew the SpaceShipTwo (SS2) craft to a higher altitude and at a greater speed than they achieved previously, reaching 69,000 feet and 1,000mph. The space shuttle broke the sound barrier.

"We are absolutely delighted today to have another major milestone under our belt at Virgin Galactic," the co-owner Sir Richard Branson said in a video. Virgin Galactic aims to offer commercial space flights to passengers starting next year.

Passengers are to pay £160,000 (Dh918,950) to travel into space, see across the Earth for 1,600 kilometres in each direction and experience five minutes of weightlessness. Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Ashton Kutcher and Justin Bieber are among celebrities believed to have bought tickets for the flight.

Mr Branson confirmed Virgin Galactic is "on track for a 2014 start."

At about 8am on Thursday, Virgin's WhiteKnightTwo (WK2) carrier aircraft took off, taking the SS2 to an altitude of 14,000 metres. After being released from WK2, the rocket motor propelled the spaceship to 21,000m. This is the first time all the technical elements of the shuttle have been tested in one flight, including deployment of the "feathering" re-entry system that slows the craft.

"The successful completion of all major aspects of the fight mission demonstrate we are very close to achieving one of Galactic's key goals: commencing access to space for the broader public," said Khadem Al Qubaisi, chairman of Aabar Investments, the Abu Dhabi government vehicle that has a 37.8 per cent stake in Galactic.

Job hunters started queuing at the Mojave Air and Spaceport at 6.30am on Saturday, half an hour before the doors for the career fair opened at 7am.

People unable to attend in person were able to log on to a virtual fair. There are currently about 100 openings advertised on Virgin Galactic's site. The business is hiring engineers, facilities managers and safety officers as well as workers in finance, administration and human resources.

Beyond its Mojave spaceport, the company has offices in London; New York; Washington; Las Cruces, New Mexico; and Pasadena, California.

Sir Richard said in May that he hoped there would one day be a spaceport in Abu Dhabi.


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