x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Virgin to offer marriages made in outer space

Virgin Galactic, the world's first space tourism company, will offer couples the chance to marry in space.

The ceremony would be conducted by the founder of Virgin, the British businessman Sir Richard Branson.
The ceremony would be conducted by the founder of Virgin, the British businessman Sir Richard Branson.

DUBAI // Couples in the UAE are about to get the chance to get married in space - but will have to spend Dh4.4m (US$1.2m) for the privilege of doing so.

Virgin Galactic, the world's first commercial space tourism company, will soon offer couples the chance to get married in a truly "out of this world" location. "Having a wedding in space is a completely new and exciting idea, and even though the price is an issue right now, in the future it will become less expensive as demand increases," said Sharon Garrett, head of space marketing and public relations at the Virgin Galactic office in Dubai.

The ceremony would be conducted by none other than the founder of the company, the British businessman Sir Richard Branson. While wacky ideas for charter are always an option for Mr Branson, Virgin Galactic is currently focused on preparing for its first commercial space trip, which is scheduled to take off from the Mojave Desert Spaceport in California early next year. The company has sold 200 tickets for the journey at Dh734,000 each.

There were Arabs confirmed on the first flight, although Ms Garrett declined to disclose their identities. She said the passengers ranged in age from 18 to 88; 80 per cent were men. "These are average people that have no past experience with anything to do with space," Ms Garrett said. UAE residents have been among the curious, but so far they have been content to let other nationalities take the maiden voyage.

"I have received a lot of calls from Emiratis who are waiting till we launch the first spaceship [before] booking their tickets," Ms Garrett said. Earlier this month, a Dubai-based Arab company became the first in the world to charter one of Virgin Galactic's spaceships, paying a deposit of Dh1.8m to send its top management into space. However, Ms Garrett said marketing the first commercial flight in the Middle East had not been easy because people living in this region were generally less inclined to accept risks related to travel.

"That's why we started a programme in March called 'A Taste of Space', which will introduce people to the idea by taking them to the NASA centre in Philadelphia and placing them in a simulator to give them the experience of the spaceship take off," she said. Tickets for the programme will cost Dh45,000 per person. The four-night, five-star trip includes a first-class ticket to New York and a limousine transfer to the NASA centre.

There are five spaceships and two mother ships under construction at The Spaceship Company, which was formed by Burt Rutan and Mr Richard Branson in mid 2005 and is jointly owned by Virgin Group and Scaled Composites. Virgin Galactic is also investing Dh825.7m to build its own spaceport in New Mexico, which will be completed by 2010. In five years time, the company wants to conduct one space trip a week. It is also considering building the first astronaut hotel in New Mexico, although no details have been announced.

This quashes rumours that the company had planned a spaceport in Ras al Khaimah, although Ms Garrett said it could be considered some time in the future. She called the desert "a perfect location because of the large empty space and less cloud cover".

abakr@thenational.ae