Manitoba professor has ‘ticket to ride’ into space on Virgin Galactic

Eyes around the world are on the skies as something of a space race heats up between two billionaires eager to begin taking paying customers on the ride of their lives.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin spacecraft made a successful launch and landing Tuesday morning in the west Texas desert. On July 11, Richard Branson was the first of the two to go into space in his Virgin Galactic vessel.

One Manitoban is taking a special interest in the two launches, especially that of Virgin Galactic. Judy Anderson is a professor emeritus of biology at the University of Manitoba. Back in 2010, Anderson purchased a ticket to ride on Branson’s craft, when his dreams of commercial spaceflight were just taking shape. The ticket to space cost her a lofty $200,000 fare.

“I always wanted to go up there and feel weightlessness and look down at the earth and the curvature underneath that black, black sky of space,” Anderson told CTV Morning Live on Tuesday.

“I always wanted to do that. At that time, it really was a long-range investment. You signed up and you got a number and they gave you a contract and now we’ve been waiting for quite some time.”

Anderson said her interest in spaceflight isn’t just for the thrill of the adventure. She said her research into muscle tissue and the impacts of prolonged inactivity somewhat mirrors the effects of weightlessness in space.

“Because muscle is the thing that moves, and the thing that definitely feels the loss of gravity, actually our whole body does that, but muscle really atrophies or wastes away in weightlessness for a prolonged time,” Anderson said.

“I’ve done studies on a model of disuse on sort of ‘couch potato’ mice and found various parts of the pathways that control muscle growth are definitely affected.”

Anderson acknowledged that the push to broaden access to space tourism comes at a time when some say more earthly challenges, such as climate change and poverty, should take the spotlight.

“Yes, this has turned out to be a fuel-hungry sort of theatre at the moment because of all the interest in these two flights, but there are many things that do come from space research and experience, and I think that the value of the earth means that more people will be interested,” said Anderson.

Anderson said the ‘million-dollar’ question now is exactly when she’ll have her turn at a ride into space. It’s not clear when either the Branson or Bezos space quests will be ready for paying passengers to blast off.

- With files from CTV’s Nicole Dubé