Scotland is one of the main breeding hubs for the cranes until a few centuries ago when these birds suddenly stopped coming to the Scottish land. But the good old days are back after a number of centuries. Studies have now confirmed that 2 little cranes have a successful nesting in the country over the past 2 years, giving a hope of increasingly favorable conditions for Cranes back in Scotland for breeding.
Small but increasing numbers of the migratory birds, which spend their summers in northern Europe and winters in France and Spain, have passed through Britain in recent years with a small breeding population becoming established in East Anglia. However, these are the first confirmed successful nests north of the border for hundreds of years.
Died our many centuries ago
Historic records and place names indicate that cranes were once present in Scotland but died out centuries ago, primarily due to hunting and their popularity as a dish at medieval banquets. Habitat loss and a slow reproductive cycle may have also led to their disappearance.
The species, which favors large wetland areas such as lowland peat bogs with an abundance of pools, appears to be benefiting from farming operations in the area which provide invertebrates, grains and other food and the right conditions to breed and successfully raise chicks.
First bred in 2012
Stuart Housden, Director of RSPB Scotland said: “We are stunned and delighted to see that common cranes have bred successfully in Scotland. These charming, elegant birds have a strong place in our myths and history and are a delight to see, particularly during the breeding season with their “dancing” displays. They undertake regular migrations and small numbers have turned up on the east coast of Scotland in recent years, raising hopes of a re-colonization. Last year the pair reared one chick- followed by a second chick in 2013.
Leave them in peace
“Thanks to the co-operation of farmers in the area, the conditions appear to be right for cranes to take up residence and it is possible that more will choose to re-establish themselves in the country in future.
“We have been working with local farmers, landowners and the community to monitor these fantastic birds. Despite their size and flamboyant breeding displays, cranes are secretive birds and are very sensitive to disturbance and we ask that they be given space and peace so they may establish a breeding population in Scotland.”
Ever imagined a super car that gives mileage better than your hatchback or sedan? That could have only been possible in dreams or James Bond movies. But not anymore. Not just one, but two auto manufacturers are putting out their hybrid super cars that offer speed with mileage, the rarest of the combos. The Porsche 918 Spyder and the BMW i8 are going to take this world by storm, if the world is so rich to buy them at their present price point.
Unveiled at the Frankfurt Motor show, the Porsche 918 Spyder can reach 60mph in less than 2.8 seconds, while BMW’s futuristic i8 takes less than 4.4 seconds to reach the same speed.
But the sleek sports cars are designed to be fuel efficient as well as fast. Porsche’s Spyder can also do 72 miles per gallon and is almost a third more fuel efficient than the Toyota’s Prius, while the BMW i8 is even less thirsty as it can manage 113 miles per gallon.
Porsche’s £537,000 offering is a carbon fibre supercar with a plug-in hybrid drive, making it the latest racing car manufacturer to try and make more eco-friendly cars sexy.
The company said: ‘Never before has a supercar designed for everyday use offered such an impressive dynamic performance combined with the fuel consumption of a compact car.’ It combines a combustion engine with an electric motor system to boost its performance.
The Spyder has a top speed of 211 miles per hour – 93mph when solely using the electric motor – and has a V8 engine, which combined with its electric capability, provides 887 horsepower. Wolfgang Hatz, member of the Porsche AG Board of Management in charge of research and development, said: ‘We promised a great deal with the 918 Spyder, namely to redefine performance, efficiency and driving pleasure. We have kept our word.’
When let loose around the famous racing circuit, Porsche said that the 918 Spyder completed the 12.8 mile track in just six minutes and 57 seconds. The hybrid car shaved 14 seconds off the previous Nurburgring record for a street-legal car, making it the fastest super car built for normal roads to race the course.
Dr Frank Walliser, head of the 918 Spyder project, said: ‘The radical hybridisation of the 918 Spyder from the very outset is what made this record possible. ‘The Nordschleife is and remains the toughest measure of a super sports car. Posting a time of 6:57 minutes, we have achieved a result of which the development team and everybody at Porsche can be rightly proud.’
BMW has finally taken the wraps off its much-teased hybrid supercar, which has a top speed of 155mph and is capable of doing 113 miles per gallon.
The futuristic i8 is the car manufacturer’s ‘most advanced’ sports car ever and is powered by a relatively small 1.5 litre turbocharged engine which, combined with an electric motor, generates 362 brake horsepower. This gives the plug-in hybrid a 0 to 62mph time of just 4.4 seconds and an electronically limited top speed of 155mph.
While it is fast, the i8 also claims to be ‘green’ and emits just 59g/km of carbon dioxide as well as being fuel-efficient for a sports car. Power from the petrol engine goes to the rear wheels while the electric motor goes through the front. The car is capable of being driven in electric mode for 22 miles at a top speed of 75mph and BMW claims the i8 can have its battery charged from zero to 80 per cent in less than two hours.
When fully charged and with a full tank of fuel, the four-seat i8 can be driven for around 310 miles before needing to be topped up. BMW has been teasing the arrival of its more eco-friendly supercar for a long time with drawings of concept cars, but has now confirmed the car will go on sale in July next year and will cost £99,845.
Making its debut at the Frankfurt Motor Show, the distinctive car looks like a new member of the BMW family but has upwards-opening scissor doors and daring details like its ‘iBlue’ neon trim on the grille, ‘side skirts’ and back bumper.
Talking about the design, the company said: ‘The structure of overlapping and interlocking surfaces contributes to the unmistakable appearance of the BMW i8. This layering principle allows aerodynamic forms to be wrapped up in a progressively styled package.’ The body is made of carbon and aluminum and the mixture of colours apparently show off the way the air flows over the car, while its shape means there is no need for a spoiler.
The company said: ‘The new BMW i8 combines the performance of a sports car with the fuel consumption of a small compact car, boasting impressive efficiency and sustainability without forfeiting driving dynamics.
‘No compromises, but rather the optimal combination of driving pleasure and responsibility. ‘The BMW i8 is a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle that brings together the advantages of electro-mobility and innovative engine technology. ‘The result is an extraordinarily dynamic driving experience – with extremely low fuel consumption and CO2 emissions.’
As clever as a Cheetah. Maybe that could well find its way into the phrases soon. A study by the biologists from Belfast on the tactics of hunting cheetah and its procedures have given interesting results on how clever they are while preying. Rather than depending on the speed and their strength, Cheetahs were found to predict the escape procedures of their victims and counter attack them in an effective manner, almost mimicking human warfare techniques.
The research team used GPS and accelerometer data loggers deployed on cheetahs, along with traditional observation methods. Explaining the team’s findings, lead researcher Dr Michael Scantlebury, from the School of Biological Sciences at Queen’s University Belfast, said: “The more we understand, about the physiology and the hunting tactics of this charismatic animal, the more we are able to ensure its continuing existence”.
Cheetah hunt tactics are prey-specific
“Our study found that whilst cheetahs are capable of running at exceptionally high speeds, the common adage that they simply ‘outrun’ their prey does not explain how they are able to capture more agile animals. Previous research has highlighted their incredible speed and acceleration and their ability to turn after escaping prey. We have now shown that hunt tactics are prey-specific.
Cheetah have clear different chase strategies depending on prey species.
“In other words, we now know that rather than a simple maximum speed chase, cheetahs first accelerate towards their quarry before slowing down to mirror prey-specific escaping tactics. We suggest that cheetahs modulate their hunting speed to enable rapid turns, in a predator-prey arms race, where pace is pitted against agility. Basically, cheetahs have clear different chase strategies depending on prey species.”
“Dr Scantlebury concluded: One thing is certain, and that is that our previous concept of cheetah hunts being simple high speed, straight line dashes to catch prey is clearly wrong. They engage in a complex duel of speed, acceleration, braking and rapid turns with ground rules that vary from prey to prey. These exciting findings are an important foundation for ensuring the preservation of these magnificent animals and for future studies in this area.”The research suggests that cheetah chases comprise two primary phases, the first an initial rapid acceleration resulting in high speed to quickly catch up with prey, followed by a second, which is a prey-specific slowing period, five to eight seconds before the end of the chase, that enables the cheetah to match turns instigated by prey as the distance between them closes.
Dr Scantlebury added: “We have discovered that cheetahs first accelerate rapidly to get them close to the prey but then have to actively slow down to be able to match prey escape manoeuvres. It is like a deadly tango between the hunter and the hunted, with one mirroring the escape tactics of the other.”
“The time spent in the initial and second phase differs according to prey species, with some species such as ostriches, hares and steenbok attempting to escape by executing sudden changes in direction, whilst other species such as wildebeest, gemsbok and springbok attempt to run fast in a more or less straight line. It almost seems as if the amount of power or effort put into a chase is decided at the beginning of the chase depending on the prey species.”
Dr Gus Mills, from the Lewis Foundation, South Africa and Oxford University’s WildCRU said: “Modern technology has given us the opportunity to record and measure facets of animal behaviour we have never been able to do. However, too often this is used without the essential backup of simultaneously observing the animals in the wild to validate what is being measured. We have been fortunate to be able to do both.”
Prof Rory Wilson from Swansea University added: “One critical feature about the sports machine that is the cheetah is that we are not just talking about a dragster that achieves incredible speeds in a straight line. This beast has to corner magnificently as well. It’s a Formula One car, but with a small tank.”
Non successful hunts
The researchers also found that that there are clear differences between successful and non-successful hunts. Non-successful hunts involve less turning at the end of the chase, probably as the cheetah realised it was not going to catch up with the prey, and seemed to involve less energy than successful hunts of the same species.
Dr Scantlebury concluded: “One thing is certain, and that is that our previous concept of cheetah hunts being simple high speed, straight line dashes to catch prey is clearly wrong. They engage in a complex duel of speed, acceleration, braking and rapid turns with ground rules that vary from prey to prey. These exciting findings are an important foundation for ensuring the preservation of these magnificent animals and for future studies in this area.”
The study, which has just been published in the Royal Society Journal Biology Letters was carried out by a team of researchers from Queen’s University Belfast, in collaboration with other Institutions in the UK (University of Aberdeen, University of Swansea, Institute of Zoology, Zoological Society of London, University of Oxford), and elsewhere (North Carolina State University, The Lewis Foundation, South African National Parks, Earth and OCEAN Technologies, Kiel, Germany). The study was funded by a Royal Society International Joint Project grant, a NERC New Investigator award and the Lewis Foundation.
Swans are beautiful birds with less flying skills than many other birds. Because of that the chance of them hitting on a power line and the resultant loss of their lives are very common in the United Kingdom. In an effort to save our swans, a study is under progress in Lancashire to reduce the risk of of deaths by proposing to place diverters in the common bird paths. If successful, this would in turn save a lot of Swans lives.
Power lines are most common cause of death for swans
Flying collisions are the most commonly recorded cause of death for swans, whose size means they have poor manoeuvrability in flight. Bird diverters are special attachments to the lines that help make them stand out to birds in flight.
For the first time, a partnership between Electricity North West, Lancaster University and the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust (WWT), is studying the efficiency of different types of diverter, alongside agricultural, weather and landscape factors which affect birds’ flights. The study area around WWT Martin Mere in Lancashire is the winter home of 30,000 pink-footed geese and 2,500 whooper swans and has been identified as a sensitive area for collisions.
Dr Eileen Rees, Head of UK Waterbird Conservation for WWT, said: “Tens of thousands of migratory geese and swans make the UK’s wetlands their winter homes. Collisions with power lines are a major cause of death for them, so WWT is delighted to be working with Electricity North West to make Lancashire, and the UK as a whole, a safer place for them.
“Through this innovative partnership we aim to gather evidence for solutions that work in our modern landscape. As well as reducing the risk to swans and geese, the results of the study should help electricity suppliers throughout the UK provide their service with fewer unnecessary interruptions.”
Steve Cox, future network manager for Electricity North West, said: “We hope that the diverters and our subsequent research will go on to help birds and electricity customers across the UK. “By working closely with WWT Martin Mere we discovered this was a sensitive section of the network as it was located in a known flight path and we are delighted to be able to help protect these wonderful birds.
“By limiting the chances of any collisions, the special diverters will also reduce any possible impact on customer power supplies.”
Dr Ian Hartley, a Senior Lecturer at the Lancaster Environment Centre at Lancaster University and a behavioural ecology expert, said: “This is a great opportunity and we are very pleased to be working with new partners on a project of such high calibre which is going to have a large impact on the area around where the geese and swans winter. One of our Master’s students will work on the project for a year and our input will be to add knowledge on the analysis and geographic information systems aspects.”
Throughout this winter, the study will closely observe the flight behaviour of geese and swans in and around WWT Martin Mere Wetland Centre. It will determine the importance of features, such as tree lines, the choice of crops and the wind direction on the birds’ choice of flight line and height.
Elephants are fascinating animals. This largest animal on the land is loved by anyone regardless of age. But not when a hoard of wild elephants comes in to destroy your crops and livelihood. This problem is more frequent in villages across Asia and Africa that lie close to forests with Elephant habitation. The farmers traditionally used loud drums and fire crackers to drive them away, but here could be an even better way how to drive away Elephants safely.
When an old African elephant matriarch hears a lion roar out on the savanna, she listens to discern whether it’s a male or female. Why does she care? Because male lions are more likely to attack.
Not many predators can take down an elephant, so it’s useful for the massive mammals to know when it’s worth their effort to run away. “We know that African elephants have very sophisticated discrimination abilities,” says Lucy Bates, a research fellow at the University of St. Andrews in the U.K. in a conversation. They also respond to the buzz of disturbed African honeybees, and can smell the difference between human friends and foes.
Conservationists hope to use elephants’ keen senses to reduce conflicts that arise when elephants munch on humans’ crops. Until now, researchers have focused on African elephants, but the first study with Asian elephants shows them to be equally adept at sensing threats.
So, what’s new? A study published in Biology Letters today suggests that wild Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) can tell the growls of various big cats apart and know which pose more danger to them.
Co-author Vivek Thuppil, an animal behaviorist at the University of California–Davis, heard about a farmer in southern India who played a recording of a tiger growl to scare elephants off his property. Thuppil and his colleagues wanted to test the strategy. Using video cameras camouflaged with elephant dung, they documented Asian elephants’ reactions to pre-recorded tiger and leopard growls along village farm roads in southern India at night–prime raiding time.
When the elephants heard the tiger growls, they crept silently away. Leopard growls elicited a very different reaction–stomping, circling, and trumpet calls–although the elephants did eventually retreat. “You don’t want to get involved with anything that has claws and teeth,” says Thuppil. “So, they eventually decided to choose the safe option, which was interesting.”
What does this mean? A leopard probably couldn’t do much damage to an elephant, while tigers sometimes eat elephant calves and could seriously injure adults. “It would pay for the elephants to recognize when a tiger is nearby so they can retreat, without wasting time by running away for every big-cat growl they hear,” says Bates, who was not affiliated with the study.
Unique guttural pulse patterns in each animal’s growl may help Asian elephants differentiate between the two feline species. Elephants growl too, and have evolved to recognize growls from different individuals in their herd based on small acoustic differences. That capacity might translate to helping them distinguish between tiger and leopard growls, says Thuppil.
Why is this important? In India, more than 200 people die in elephant attacks annually, while humans kill at least that many elephants each year. Since deaths on both sides are often related to crop raiding, new methods of keeping the peace between humans and elephants are in high demand.
“This study adds to our growing knowledge of how elephants perceive the world, and it is exciting because it could have implications for the struggle to reduce human-elephant conflict,” says Bates.
What’s next? Broadcasting tiger growls over speakers could be an easy way to trick elephants into steering clear of Indian villages. But that conservation strategy might stop working if elephants get used to hearing the sounds. “Something like this would need to be more fine-tuned,” says Thuppil. One way to do that is to simulate a moving threat by playing a sound in different places; that’s the UC Davis team’s next research project.
The armed forces designs the uniforms in such a way that they perfectly blend with the background location of the warrior keeping him off the eagle eyes of the enemies. The daylight is fine, but with the night vision cameras that detect the presence of heat waves or Infra Red rays spot them easily as the rays emitted from these clothing differ from their usual background. These could be stories of the past, as researchers find a way to control the heat being emitted by your clothes, simply put as Infra Red Stealth Clothing.
Scientists at the University of California Irvine have created a new “stealth” coating that can change the way it reflects infrared light on command. The films, which are around 100,000 times thinner than a human hair, can be switched on and off using a chemical signal. Tests conducted by the researchers have shown that they can make an orange surface blend into green foliage when the coating is activated.
The technology mimics the active camouflage used by squid, where they change the colour and even the texture of their skin to blend into the background. The researchers claim their new coating can be attached to a wide range of surfaces and is a first step towards developing “shape shifting clothing” capable of adapting to the environment around it.
Dr Alon Gorodestsky, an assistant professor of chemical engineering and material science at University of California Irvine, said: “Our approach is simple and compatible with a wide array of surfaces, potentially allowing many simple objects to acquire camouflage capabilities. “Our long-term goal is to create fabrics that can dynamically alter their texture and colour to adapt to their environments. “Basically, we’re seeking to make shape-shifting clothing – the stuff of science fiction – a reality.”
Dr Gorodestsky and his colleagues used a protein called reflectin, which is found in the skin of the long fin squid Doryteuthis pealeii to create the new coating. These squid can change their colour from a deep red to a soft pink and are known to change their visibility under infrared light.
The scientists, whose work is published in the journal Advanced Materials, created a film by combining reflectin with graphene, the Nobel Prize winning ultra-thin form of transparent carbon that was first isolated in 2003. The researchers found they could tune the wavelength of light that was reflected by the film so that when it was activated it would reflect infrared light in different ways.
The coating can be switched on either by a change in humidity or by the presence of acetic acid vapour, or vinegar, which cause the reflectin to swell like a gel, changing the way it reflects light. This would mean that such coatings could be made to turn on at night when humidity typically rises, or by releasing a chemical signal into the clothing itself. The scientists say a similar method could also be used to change the texture of a surface and they hope to develop new “stealth materials”.
Dr Gorodestsky said: “Given these advantages, our dynamically tunable, infrared-reﬂective films represent a crucial first step towards the development of reconﬁgurable and disposable biomimetic camouﬂage technologies for military stealth applications.”
The world is in the middle of a power crisis. The only way out is alternate energy and bio-fuels. Scientists are yet to make a leap in the field of bio-fuels. This scenario will change very soon as a team of scientists have identified a new bacteria from the faeces of panda. Bacteria from Panda accelerates production of Bio Fuel. The habitat of those bacterium are not very common though. They can only be isolated from the faeces of a Panda!
Researchers have isolated 40 species of bacteria from the faeces of panda at Memphis Zoo, Ya Ya and Le Le, capable of improving bio fuel production.
They found the microbes were highly efficient at breaking down the fibrous material in plant into sugars that would then be fermented by other bacteria. They were looking for the bacteria in pandas because the endangered species eats almost exclusively a diet of woody bamboo.
Their guts have evolved to digest the bamboo rapidly to allow them to get enough nutrients from this nutritionally poor food.
Dr Ashli Brown, who is leading the research Mississippi State University, said in a report that the bacteria in pandas produced highly potent enzymes capable of breaking down touch woody materials. She said: “The time from eating to defecation is comparatively short in the panda, so their microbes have to be very efficient to get nutritional value out of the bamboo. “Efficiency is key when it comes to biofuel production — that’s why we focused on the microbes in the giant panda.”
Dr Brown presented the findings at the National Meeting and Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Indianapolis. Currently plant waste from crops such as corn and soya requires special processing to break down tough lignocellulose material before it can be turned into biofuel.
Working with scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Dr Brown’s team identified bacteria from the pandas that break down lignocellulose into simple sugars, which can be fermented into bioethanol. They also found bacteria that can take those sugars and transform them into oils and fats for biodiesel production.
Dr Brown said “We have discovered microbes in panda faeces might actually be a solution to the search for sustainable new sources of energy.”
Feeling bored to live on the same Earth for so long? Want to escape from this nasty polluted blue planet? He is your chance to settle down in the red planet, the Mars. This is not a science fiction movie, but a shear reality, that happens just on your backyard, the United States of America. Mark your calendars for a 10 year countdown, as the first-ever spacecraft carrying the first batch of Mars-settlers will take off in 2023. It’s time to book one way ticket to mars.
Mars One—a controversial project that aims to send humans on a one-way trip to the Red Planet by 2023—has garnered interest from 202,586 folks from more than 140 countries who sent in video applications.
The majority of applicants (47,654) for this one-way trip to Mars come from the United States, with India (20,747) and China (13,176) coming in second and third place, as detailed in this post.
Now that the first of a four-round selection process ended on August 31, a Mars One committee will take the next few months to whittle down the number of applicants (yet-to-be-determined) who will be notified by the end of this year.
The plan eventually is to have the candidates undergo mental and physical challenges. Teams from different regions will compete against each other until only 24 to 40 candidates with the “right stuff” are left standing in 2015.
These remaining Mars colony candidates will then embark on a seven-year training odyssey that, in partnership with spaceship builder SpaceX, will see the first team of four Mars “settlers” blast off in 2023.
With the initial mission costing $6 billion, the plan is to have private financial backing, including a television reality show to help raise the funds for the maiden voyage in a decade’s time—and subsequent missions slated to follow every two years after that.
The long-term vision is to establish a thriving, permanent human colony on the Red Planet with new missions running through the middle of this century.
Starfish is a unique kind of sea creatures with the ability to grow its cut organs by itself. Being not commonly included in the human food menu, the lives of starfishes were never threatened before. But late last month, massive starfish die-off were reported across parts of Canada. These mysterious deaths have caused immense trouble for the biologists as they could not come to any conclusion on the circumstances of such mass deaths. These areas are banned for poaching, thus denying the remote possibility of a human involvement in the case.
At the end of August, marine biologist and scuba enthusiast Jonathan Martin was out on his usual Saturday dive with some friends when he noticed something unusual.”We just started noticing dead starfish that looked like they had their arms chopped off,” Martin said.
They were sunflower starfish, a major marine predator in the area that feeds mostly on sea urchins and snails. Like most starfish, the sunflower starfish can regenerate lost limbs—it can have up to 20—and can grow to be up to three feet (a meter) across.
Since Martin was diving in an area frequented by crabbers, at first he thought the sunflower starfish had gotten caught in some of the crab traps and had lost limbs escaping. But Martin kept seeing large numbers of dead starfish as he and his friends swam to a marine park where such crab fishing is illegal. Martin knew then it wasn’t the traps that were causing the starfish deaths.
After returning from the dive, he visited friends at a local dive shop who were active in marine conservation. Without any definitive answer, he shared photos on Flickr and videos on YouTube—taken at Lion’s Bay and Whytecliff Park in Vancouver—to try to get ideas from others about what was going on.
It really struck a chord in other divers who were seeing it on Facebook and social media, both locally and as far away as California, who had been seeing similar things,” Martin said.
Searching for a Cause
Still without any answers, Martin wrote to invertebrate expert Christopher Mah, a researcher at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., and author of the Echinoblog. On his blog, Mah speculated as to some causes, including a type of parasite that lives on starfish—the leading hypothesis at the moment, Martin said.
Both Mah and Martin also wonder if a population explosion of the species, which began about three years ago, has something to do with the deaths. It was an unprecedented increase, so maybe what we’re seeing is just sort of a bursting of the bubble. The animals just reached a density that was unsustainable,” Martin suggested.
Starfish Not Alone
Yet what’s especially alarming to Martin, Mah, and other marine biologists is the fact that this die-off might not be restricted to P.helianthoides or the northern Pacific. Martin has spotted other dead invertebrates besides the sunflower starfish, including its predator, the morning sun star.
Earlier this summer, researchers also noticed a massive die-off of another starfish species on the U.S. East Coast. Scientists at the University of Rhode Island first noticed the large numbers of deaths of Asterias —part of the same family as the sunflower starfish in British Columbia—in 2011, and since then, dead starfish have been documented along the eastern seaboard from Maine to New Jersey.
Fisheries and Oceans Canada is worried enough that they’ve asked Martin to go back out and collect samples for them to test in the lab. Although the agency has expressed interest in the die-off, Martin says that starfish aren’t a major research priority, and the main burden of investigation and discovery has fallen on him and other divers with an interest in marine ecology.
Meanwhile, Martin cautions people to not jump to conclusions.
When I posted this on Facebook, some people immediately thought that this was due to global warming or other human-related activities. While that’s certainly a possibility, it’s all speculation.”
Just like everybody else, even I got curious to know about ticket to space with Virgin Galactic. Space tourism seemed like a si-fi fiction a decade ago and today it’s become a reality. The question to be asked is that what does a $250,000 ticket to space with Virgin Galactic actually buy you? Let’s dig down deep inside the whole story.
In April, Virgin Galactic — a subsidiary of Branson’s Virgin Group — hit a milestone. The rocket motor the company had been testing on the ground was fitted into SpaceShip Two, the spacecraft that, from next year onwards, will bring space travel to the general public.
“We lit the rocket motor for the first time in the air and the spaceship went through the sound barrier,” recalls Stephen Attenborough, Virgin Galactic’s commercial director. “It was a hugely significant milestone for us, and in many ways, the last big piece of the jigsaw.”
Though a ticket aboard SpaceShip Two doesn’t come cheap — a seat currently costs $250,000 — Attenborough maintains that as things stand, the fare is a relative bargain.
“It’s still about 1% of the price you would have needed to pay to go to space as a private citizen before now,” maintains Attenborough. Indeed, in the past, the privilege cost civilians a fair share. When Dennis Tito, the world’s first “space tourist” bought a seat aboard a Russian Soyuz spacecraft in 2001, it allegedly cost him nearly $20 million.
Though flights won’t commence until next year at the earliest, Virgin Galactic has already sold 640 seats to space enthusiasts the world over. For some, the cost is negligible. Others, though, have taken second mortgages on their homes to pay for the tickets.
“There’s a lot to do with getting you psychologically prepared for a trip that is absolutely about sensory overload,” says Attenborough. The flight itself accommodates six passengers, lasts two and a half hours, and culminates with congratulatory champagne at the spaceport. Space travelers get to leave their seats to experience several minutes of zero-gravity, and perhaps the most iconic view ever afforded mankind.