3 October 2010
Other - Tourism (Good)
Not Just a Travel Agent...a Space Travel Agent
Why use an Accredited Space Agent
by Byron N. Roberts
So you want to take a trip into space, and you happen to have a $200,000 in your pocket. Congratulations, you’re eligible for a suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShip Two. So how do book your trip when you can’t find a listing for “space” on Travelocity?

Booking directly through Virgin Galactic is one option. However, there is another option, one that many of us have never considered in the age of the Web: book through a travel agent. However, in this case, you would use an Accredited Space Agent (ASA).

But why use an ASA, aside from the cool factor of saying, “I had my space agent take care of it for me?” Travel agents are still frequently used to arrange complex trips, especially the kind where a lot of money is on the line and the destination is particularly adventurous. And you don’t get much more adventurous (and expensive) than a trip into space.

Using an ASA offers one particularly useful advantage when arranging experiential travel: insight from someone with knowledge of your destination. While no space agent has been to space, they have received training in the basic principles of spaceflight, the technology behind the spacecraft and aircraft (SpaceShips One and Two, as well as WhiteKnight Two, which will carry SpaceShip Two part of the way up), and experienced many of the sensations associated with spaceflight. Some of this training is accomplished through an intensive training session that all ASAs go through upon being selected.

Moshe Gabbay, of the Valerie Wilson Travel in New York, says ASAs start out as “regular” earthbound travel agents, most of whom are members of professional organizations such as the International Air Travel Association and the American Association of Travel Agents. Virgin chooses agents to become ASAs if they have a proven track record with selling high-end, experiential travel.

Gabbay says he became an ASA for many reasons. Those reasons “include my passion for space and aviation in general, being part of history, believing in the product, and in Sir Richard Branson’s idea of giving many people the opportunity to go to space in the very near future without paying millions of [dollars].”

According to Carolyn Wincer, head of Astronaut Sales for Virgin Galactic, space agents are invited to an annual Accredited Space Agent Forum. The first forum involved g-force training at the NASTAR Center in Pennsylvania (the second took place in southern California at the time of the SpaceShip Two unveiling). An upcoming Forum will include a trip to Spaceport America. Space agents also participate in other events, such as zero-g flights and visits to Scaled Composites, where the Virgin spacecraft and aircraft are manufactured.

Booking through an ASA also offers a more important advantage: because no customers have flown yet; the spacecraft and aircraft are still being put through test flights; and no specific date has been set for the first customer-carrying flight, ASAs are a main source of information. They are kept up to date on vehicle progress and developments at Virgin Galactic through monthly webinars that they must attend. In turn, the ASA serves as the conduit through which astronauts-in-waiting are appraised of the current state of affairs.

Gabbay reports that interaction is maintained between the customer and himself “until the day of the actual flight.”

One day commercial spaceflight will be routine, and we’ll be able to simply go online and book the most convenient flight to space with hardly a thought. But for the moment, this type of travel is truly cutting edge. As such, you may want to consider contacting your friendly neighborhood space agent before venturing up to see the curvature of our little blue marble for yourself.
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3 October 2010
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