An Antiguan teenage student and her mother will enjoy a trip of a lifetime when they travel to space later this week, after a winning a place on the second commercial flight of Virgin Galactic, in a prize draw.
Eighteen-year-old Anastatia Mayers who attends Aberdeen University in Scotland, won two places on the flight after her mum, Keisha Schahaff, entered a competition she only stumbled across by chance and now the two of them will become the first mother and daughter to go to space and at the same time become the first people from the Caribbean to make the journey.
The mission, which is named Galactic 02 is the second commercial spaceflight, but the first with paying customers onboard. The Galactic 01 mission took place in June. It reached an altitude of 279,000ft (85km) and it is believed that this flight will attempt the same path.
Those who were not fortunate to get a seat via a sweepstake, have had to pay premium fare, with the advertised price as high as $450,000. The lucky pair will join the other passengers when the rocket plane, VSS Unity, takes off from New Mexico, on Thursday 10 August.
Right place at the right time
A series of fortunate circumstances led up to the opportunity falling the way of Keisha. She was on a Virgin flight to London from Antigua in 2021 for the purpose of sorting out Anastasia’s visa, which she needed to attend university in Scotland.
As she jetted across the Atlantic, she suddenly had an advert pop up in-flight, inviting her to enter a competition to win this amazing prize. Keisha explained: “I filled out this sweepstake and then suddenly months later I’m getting correspondences saying that you’re a top 20 finalist, then a top five finalist, and then a winner.”
In a remarkable situation that must have seemed surreal, Keisha said: “Suddenly, who’s walking into my yard? Richard Branson! The whole team just swarmed into my house saying ‘you’re the winner, you’re going to space’.”
The stars align for mother and daughter
Daughter, Anastatia, who will become the second youngest person to go to space, admitted she was shocked, with lots of things happening at specific moments to all fall into place perfectly. The excited second-year philosophy and physics student said on the eve of the trip: “Had I not made one of the biggest decisions of my life and randomly chosen to study at Aberdeen University and had we not had to take a massive detour to get my visa, we wouldn’t be going to space, but it has led to this magnificent thing happening.” She also stated that she hopes she can use the experience to inspire others, in Antigua, Scotland and anywhere else she has ties.
For Keisha it will fulfil a life-long dream going all the way back to when she was just two-years-old, and the fact that she can do it now with her own daughter is just a dream.
“To do this together, it’s more than a dream come true. This is my kid, I love her with all my heart, and to know that we both share the same goal, the same dream, that is super over the moon,” the proud 46-year-old said, also admitting she had at one time aspired to become an astronaut, but reality was that there were no avenues in Antigua, or indeed the Caribbean, to pursue her dream.
Extreme adventures receive criticism
On the serious side of things, in the lead up to take-off the pair have been participating in Virgin Galactic’s ‘Readiness Journey Program’, which covers everything from how spaceflights work to physical and psychological preparation.
There has been criticism in some quarters with regards to extreme adventure, following on from the tragic events on the doomed submersible, which cost the lives of five explorers in June, when it catastrophically imploded on its voyage to the wreck of the Titanic.
The risks have not affected Keitha one bit. She is too “elated” to even contemplate getting nervous, and in a glowing tribute to her country, she remarked: “’What makes it even more extraordinary is that I have the chance to represent my beloved country, Antigua and Barbuda, and pave the way for our nation and community as the first astronauts.
It fills my heart with pride and gratitude at the prospect of looking back at our beautiful planet from above and experiencing the profound overview effect. I can’t wait to float amongst the stars and experience the weightlessness of zero gravity.”
Hope for career opportunities
The proud Antiguan is hoping that the voyage being presented to the two of them will encourage her daughter to pursue a career in space. “It’s even more remarkable because this opportunity aligns with her aspiration to become an astrobiologist and understand how life can exist beyond Earth, allowing both our dreams to intertwine and manifest simultaneously.”
Extra strong bond
It is however the bonding which the build up to the trip has allowed mother and daughter to experience, that has brought the most joy to Keisha. “We have always had a close bond, but this has brought us even closer.”
She continued: “We constantly inspire and support each other, and I feel incredibly fortunate to have her by my side. As a mother, I couldn’t be prouder and happier,” she said before adding: “This adventure has strengthened our connection in ways I never imagined possible.”