New Space and Tech

Mother-Daughter Duo, Former Olympian to Fly on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo

By Douglas Messier
July 17, 2023
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Mother-Daughter Duo, Former Olympian to Fly on Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo
Colin Bennett looks down at Earth from VSS Unity.
Image credit: Virgin Galactic.

A mother-daughter duo from Antigua and Barbuda who won their tickets in a sweepstakes and an 80-year-old former Olympian are set to fly on Virgin Galactic’s second commercial spaceflight from Spaceport America in New Mexico on August 10, the company announced on Monday.

Keisha Schahaff and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, won their tickets in a sweepstake that raised $1.7 million for Space for Humanity, a nonprofit that funds trips to space on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo and Blue Origin’s New Shepard suborbital vehicles.

Space for Humanity was founded in 2017 by Dylan Taylor, who owns SpaceRef as part of Multiverse Media.

Schahaff, 46, is a health and wellness coach from Antigua and Barbuda. Mayers, 18, is a second-year student studying physics and philosophy at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. They will be the first mother-daughter duo to fly on a spacecraft.

VSS Unity fires its engines
VSS Unity fires its engines during the Galactic 01 flight. Image credit: Virgin Galactic.

Mayers will be the second-youngest person to fly on a suborbital vehicle. Oliver Daemen was also 18 years old when he flew on Blue Origin’s New Shepard vehicle, in July 2021.

Joining them is Jon Goodwin, 80, who will be the first former Olympian to fly on a spacecraft. The British adventurer competed in the two-man slalom canoeing competition at the 1972 Olympics in Munich, Germany. He will be the second person with Parkinson’s disease to fly to space.

Goodwin will be the third-oldest person to fly on a suborbital rocket. Actor William Shatner was 90 years old when he flew on New Shepard in October 2021, and Wally Funk was 82 years old when she flew on New Shepard in July 2021.

The three passengers will be joined in the cabin by Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses, for what will be her fourth suborbital flight. The company is having astronaut instructors fly aboard the initial commercial flights to evaluate the experience for passengers and refine the pre-flight training program.

CJ Sturckow will command SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity. It will be Sturckow’s fifth suborbital flight on VSS Unity. He flew to orbit four times aboard NASA space shuttles between 1998 and 2008 on missions that lasted a combined 51 days. Nicola Pecile will command the WhiteKnightTwo VMS Eve carrier aircraft that will air launch VSS Eve. Mike Masucci will serve as pilot.

The flight follows the first commercial VSS Unity mission on June 29. That flight carried Italian Air Force officers Walter Villadei and Angelo Landolfi and Pantaleone Carlucci of the National Research Council of Italy on a research mission. Virgin Galactic Astronaut Trainer Colin Bennett joined them in the passenger cabin.

Virgin Galactic has about 800 people signed up for SpaceShipTwo suborbital flights, the majority of which will be for the purpose of space tourism. The company will also conduct a number of research flights, some with researchers in the passenger cabin and others with only the two pilots aboard.

VSS Unity is expected to fly on a monthly basis. The company is developing a Delta-class line of SpaceShipTwo vehicles capable of flying once per week as well as new WhiteKnightTwo aircraft to carry them. The Delta-class ships are scheduled to begin flight tests in 2025 and enter service in 2026.

Doug Messier

Douglas Messier is the founder of Parabolic Arc. He studied at George Washington University’s Space Policy Institute and is an alumnus of the International Space University.