Even a decade ago, the idea might have sounded incredibly far-fetched, but if recent events are any indication, space tourism is quickly becoming the next big thing in vacationing.
The first commercial space tourism voyage by Virgin Galactic took off in August 2023. Customers paid $450,000 for this service. Keisha Schahaff and Ana Mayers, the first mother-daughter duo to fly into space, earned seats as part of a $1.7m project by the non-profit Space for Humanity, meaning they did not have to pay for the trip. They were the first women from the Caribbean and Antigua to travel to space. And there were more women on this flight than on any other flight in history.
Keisha and Ana were interviewed by BBC Travel to shed light on this momentous occasion, discussing how their experience in space has impacted their relationship and their perspective on life on Earth.
The following interview has been trimmed and shortened for brevity and comprehension.
Keisha, I’m aware of your participation in the contest. Why?
Keisha: I’ve always wanted to be an astronaut, even when I was a little girl. This is something that has always interested me. I had no idea how I was going to ascend into the vastness of the sky, pass through the thin air of Earth’s atmosphere, and arrive in the unknown of space.
What the heck happened?
Keisha: I was on a Virgin Galactic flight from Antigua to Barbados. We were with my daughter. And then a Richard Branson advertisement popped up: “Would you like to go to space?” So I checked the box and sent in my lottery entry.
A few weeks later, to my amazement, I began receiving letters from the Home Office and the Astronaut Office, the Virgin Galactic office, informing me that I had made the final cut. Then Richard Branson and a huge crew showed up at my door to announce, “You are going to space!”
Tell me, Ana: what did you make of this?
It wasn’t until Richard Branson confirmed it for me that I believed it was true. It took me a while after receiving confirmation to accept the reality that it was actually happening.
Keisha, tell me again why you insisted that your daughter accompany you.
She wasn’t my first choice, Keisha! My husband had said no, but I knew it was him. I had no idea that my young kid was fascinated by outer space until recently. Then she added, “Mom, if this is something that actually will happen, I’m going to space with you.” I had already decided to go alone, but her words changed my mind.
What did you envision the void of space to look like?
Ana: I went into it with an open mind and made sure I didn’t have any preconceived notions.
Keisha: I wanted to find out, for myself, what exactly space is. Where do we go from here? Science, all the photographs, the media, and even the fictitious films give you an impression of what it’s like there. It transports you to a made-up world within your head. This is what space looks like, so now you know what to expect.
And how did things really turn out?
Keisha: Leaving Earth was such a fun journey since it was a way to get away. When I looked up and saw Earth sitting there all serene and Zen-like, I felt the deepest sense of calm possible.
Your requirements were clearly satisfied, if not exceeded.
Beyond, Keisha. Beyond. I can’t even begin to describe it. I wish I could find the right words to express how I really feel. That’s a tremendous thing.
Where do you stand, Ana? How was the view from that height?
For the first time in my life, Ana, my thoughts were silent. Even though I didn’t go in with any expectations, everything ended up exceeding them. Although I was surprised by how far away Earth appeared, I was more surprised by the fact that I was able to see it at all.
Aside from the natural reaction of shock, When you glanced back at Earth, how did you feel?
When I first turned and peered out the window, Ana, I nearly freaked out. Oh my God, I couldn’t believe it, that was Earth. For a moment, I couldn’t figure out how to take in the enormity of the situation. The tape probably shows me clinging to my seatbelts and trying to exit the vehicle as quickly as possible because, whoa. The whole thing was incredible. The state of my emotions was chaotic. There was no panic, but there was a great deal of perplexity. Oh my God, I thought, is this really happening? What, Planet Earth? What?’ It seemed like everything was occurring at once. However, it is also quite quiet.
Keisha: That was a place of peace and freedom and connection for me. The only thing that worried me was that my daughter would freak out when she got there, because I put myself in this position of responsibility. However, she succeeded admirably. It was very much a spiritual encounter and setting. When I saw how much it meant to my kid, though, I was thrilled.
Your bond as a couple must be stronger for having gone through this ordeal together. Do you discuss it frequently at home? Is it just with the media?
Ana: We haven’t had many conversations about it since I believe we’re both needing time alone to think about it and absorb it. But I do believe it has strengthened our relationship. We have the freedom to be open and honest with one another. We get along great. I just feel like it made our relationship stronger overall.
In what ways have you evolved as a result?
Keisha: It’s made me more receptive to the idea of letting go. Because, just as with the journey to space itself, the feeling and experience improve the more you give in to them. So, I guess I’ve kind of carried it over into my relationship with Ana, or any connection, where I’m just giving up all control and expectations in order to simply be present and see what develops. When you relax your grip, everyone benefits, including your bond with your child.
Does it change either of your perspectives on Earth in any way?
It was something that was there, Ana says. I was born and raised here, and this is all I’ve ever known. Before I really got to see Earth, I guess I didn’t give it much thought. This has just served to further pique my already strong interest in environmental issues. After seeing Earth for myself, I know how important it is to protect and cherish it.
Keisha: So many individuals are campaigning for this, and we’ve already heard from so many of them: you must take care of your world. I, too, participate in island-wide beach clean-ups and other similar events here on Antigua. However, when I’m outside and can reflect on Earth, I feel an even stronger bond to it. Realizing that our insignificance in the grand scheme of things makes the little challenges of this life seem less daunting.
Initially, I anticipated a tense atmosphere, but instead, I found a serene setting. If there is anything out there, it must have a pleasant spirit, since all you can really feel when you go beyond is calm. Fear and a lot of other unnecessary things come from us. We each have our own internal chaos, which we then share with one another.
Do you wish space travel was more widely available, especially because it was such a profound and formative experience for you and your partner?
Definitely, Ana. It’s completely out there, but it means a lot. You become far more vulnerable and expressive than you anticipated. It’s not as simple as it first appears. In my opinion, this would be a life-changing opportunity for other individuals if they were given the chance to participate, and I see that as a really promising sign for the future.