21 Ultimate Gifts: Out of this World

THE GIFT
A six-person suborbital spaceflight aboard Sir Richard Branson’s commercial spacecraft spaceshiptwo.

A 28-person weeklong “welcome back to Earth” party hosted by Branson on Necker Island, his Caribbean private-isle resort. 

STARTING AT $1.6 MILLION

Have you ever traveled at more than three times the speed of sound? Have you ever witnessed the sky shift from blue to black as you begin to leave the Earth’s atmosphere? Have you ever experienced weightlessness? Of course not––unless you are one of the few living individuals who can rightfully call themselves astronauts. "Fewer than 500 people have ever left the planet," says David Clark, head of astronaut relations for Virgin Galactic, a subsidiary of Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group Ltd.

That number could soon increase. Clark says that Branson has not announced precisely when Virgin Galactic will launch its first commercial suborbital spaceflight, though everything is on track for it to occur before 2012. "This is the first private-spaceship company ever developed," Branson told Robb Report in June. "At the moment, we just have NASA and the Russians. Soon, we’re going to have Virgin Galactic."

The Virgin Galactic project has been on the drawing board for more than a decade, but it was not until 2004 that aeronautical engineer Burt Rutan and a slew of investors sent the world’s first privately funded manned spacecraft––SpaceShip One––330,000 feet from the earth’s surface. Virgin has begun construction on a spaceport in New Mexico and has announced plans for bases in Sweden and Abu Dhabi. A dual-fuselage mother ship is currently undergoing test flights, while SpaceShipTwo––slated to be the first commercial spacecraft––is scheduled for testing before the end of 2009.

The recipient of this otherworldly gift and five friends or family members will enjoy a group spaceflight in Virgin Galactic’s first year of commercial operation, which should place them among the first 1,000 people ever to venture into space. During the flight the mother ship will transport SpaceShipTwo up to 50,000 feet, where the latter will detach from the mother ship and rocket to speeds approaching Mach 4. Passengers will be subjected to 3.5 g’s for about 30 seconds before leaving the Earth’s atmosphere, about 360,000 feet above the earth’s surface, where they will experience several minutes of weightlessness and marvel at our planet from afar. The entire event, aside from the three days of required astronaut training, will take about two and a half hours.

Though the spaceflight will take a relatively short amount of time, the memories of the adventure will last a lifetime, as will the ability of the recipient and his or her guests to call themselves astronauts. When the new astronauts return to Earth, they will join friends and family (the group will total no more than 28 people) and Branson himself for a weeklong celebration on Necker Island, his 74-acre private-island retreat in the British Virgin Islands. "Sir Richard has these two glowing achievements: space travel and probably the most incredible paradise in the world," says Clark. "With this gift, you will experience both in the same week."

Virgin Galactic, David Clark, +44.207.447.1912, www.virgingalactic.com

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