In San Francisco, I’m afraid we’ve got a touch of the Space Madness.
What else is new, you ask? Okay, I’ll admit that Buh-buh-buh-Baghdad By the Bay has been high on the venom of the Moon Maidens since that fateful day in five-five when the G-man funked with the bongos. Allen sauced us with a does of that juicy contagion, cool cats, and we’ve been, like, cuh-raaayzee, man, ever, like, since.
But this week’s different. Y’see, it’s just been announced that the new Terminal 2 at San Francisco International Airport (SFO), opening on April 14, will be the nesting point not just of Virgin America, but Virgin Galactic, the outfit planning to operate
SpaceShip 2 SpaceShip Enterprise, the first commercial passenger spaceship.
As the Daily Mail reported (with some stunning photos, of which the above is but a thumb-tasting), the first two planes to arrive at the terminal yesterday were the new Virgin American Airbus 320 arrived in San Francisco yesterday (April 6) and its bestest bud, Virgin Galactic’s Scaled Composites-built White Knight 2 VMS Eve, named after Richard Branson’s mother. VMS Eve had the SpaceShip 2 Enterprise tucked under its wing.
The jet-powered mothership ferries Enterprise for Earthbound flights, and also serves as its launch platform. Rather than blasting off from the ground like the Space Shuttle, Enterprise launches from a carrier vessel, like the X-15 used to launch from the B-52.
“For the first time we’ve brought the spaceship and WhiteKnight to a commercial airport…. It’s just a fantastic, exciting day,” says an obviously amped-up Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. Before he was the company’s CEO, Whitesides was one of the first people to sign up for a $200,000 ticket to ride on the space plane.
Commercial flights will begin in a year or two, Whitesides added.
The spaceship/mothership combination landed at SFO in formation with a more typical Virgin vehicle, an Airbus A320, which carried celebrity passengers such as Virgin founder Richard Branson (seen peering out the window in the video above) and pioneering astronaut Buzz Aldrin.
A handful of lucky schoolchildren who are part of a Virgin-backed nonprofit foundation’s effort to get students interested in science, math and entrepreneurship, also got to ride, plus a passel of journalists….It’s just one of the public relations benefits Virgin enjoys as a result of operating both a domestic air carrier and a suborbital spaceflight operation.
Aldrin, of course, is no ordinary astronaut. His mention in project is accompanied around Techyum Towers by the same giddy Hamster Dance that accompanies a Bigfoot sighting or a political endorsement from Chuck Yeager. Aldrin is one of the biggest personalities in modern weirdness, though all told most of the weirdness seems to swirl around him; I get the sense he’s actually fairly normal.
The second man on the moon and the first one to hold a religious ceremony there, Aldrin is the astronaut probably most beloved by wingnuts, for his account of a UFO spotted during the Apollo 11 mission.
But he’s also, reputedly, a thirty-third degree Scottish Rite Mason. His name springs first to the lips of conspiracy wonks as proof that the Apollo program was a hotbed of spooky-ookie X-ness. Much has been made of his reported mischief of taking a Masonic flag to the moon and returning it to the shady secret society to, I don’t know, hang it up somewhere or something.
Though unattributed misinformation often identifies Aldrin as a right-winger, he’s actually been friendly with Democrats for years and is an adviser to the Obama Administration on space matters. Last year he went toe-to-toe against his former moonmate Neil Armstrong, Apollo 13 commander Jim Lovell (yeah, Tom Hanks played him in the movie) and Apollo 17 commander Eugene Cernak, in supporting Obama’s decision to cancel NASA’s planned return to the moon with the Constellation mission. The astro-trio thought the cancellation was guaranteed to torpedo America’s race to conquer the stars, while Aldrin says that specific program ran counter to what he felt should be U.S. space aims, which he felt should be (among other things) establishing a permanent colony on Mars. Armstrong, Lovell and Cernak disagreed strenuously. Astronaut fight in the Cream-of-Wheat pit!!!
Speaking of which, Aldrin once punched a guy in the teeth for claiming the Moon landing was faked. Aldrin believes the key to establishing U.S. hegemony in space is permanent, sustainable colonies on other planets. To that end, he went on Dancing With the Stars and recorded a rap song with Snoop Dogg and Quincy Jones.