Melbourne man will soon go to space on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic

It was 1979, during the first great space race, when a young Scott Copeland declared to his year 5 classmates he was going to be an astronaut.

It didn’t go down well.

“All the kids laughed at me and the teacher suggested that I re-baseline my career choices,” Mr Copeland, 52, told news.com.au.

“I was obsessed with being an astronaut. Everything I said, did, thought about, was about being an astronaut.

“In the 1970s, you’d grow up watching the Apollo moon missions and the thought of going to space and floating in zero gravity — I couldn’t imagine what that would be like.”

Overnight, the Melbourne banker and father-of-three suddenly became one step closer to finding out for himself.

As the world watched Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spaceship rocket to the edge of space on Sunday night, few were watching with more anticipation than Mr Copeland, who has a ticket on one of Virgin Galactic’s future space flights.

Last night’s successful voyage saw Sir Richard, two pilots and three passengers in VSS Unity reach 80km above Earth in a landmark moment for the possibility of commercial space flight.

It means hundreds of ticketholders in Virgin Galactic’s global Future Astronaut Community — including Mr Copeland — could be as little as 12 months away from a supersonic space flight of their own.

“There’s a lot of excitement about the fact it’s actually happened because it’s been talked about for so long and feels so real now,” Mr Copeland said.

“Now they’ve sent Sir Richard up there, the whole thing’s crystallised for me that for the rest of us in the queue, we’re going.

“I actually found it more emotional when they touched down safely. I’ve been part of this journey for seven years, since I won my ticket … you feel part of this big family that’s pulled off something amazing.”

Tickets on future flights with Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo are said to cost upwards of $330,000, but Mr Copeland scored his ticket when he won a Virgin Australia competition in 2014.

About 600 future astronauts are waiting to fly and Mr Copeland figures he’s around the middle of the pack. He’s been briefed on the future flight already, but things will really kick into gear when his flight is finally confirmed.

“They said you’ll get there up to a week before you actually fly and spend a bit of time training and understand what the flight will entail, what will be expected of you, and actually get to meet your fellow future astronauts and bond with them because it’s an amazing experience what we’re going to do with each other,” Mr Copeland said.

Mindfulness techniques would be a big part of the pre-flight preparation, he said.

“They’re very cognisant that when you do go up there, it’s an experience you genuinely wouldn’t be prepared for, and you don’t want to be totally overwhelmed and not take it in,” he said.

“They train you to be mindful of your environment and what you’ll see and what you’re going to feel.”

After decades of dreaming of space travel, Mr Copeland said there were many things he wouldn’t wait to experience for himself.

“I’m really interested to see what it’s like when SpaceShipTwo drops from the mothership and they fire up that rocket and then you climb to Mach 3, which is three times the speed of sound,” he said.

“And then once you’re up there in space, I think the thing everyone wants to do is float, to not experience gravity and just be able to somersault.

“I’m also interested to see how or if this changes me. Astronauts often say when you look down at the Earth you experience what they call the overview effect, when you’re looking down at the planet you live in from afar and you see the curvature, and it can really transform how you think about life.

“I’m curious to see if that will have a profound impact on me. You get to a certain point in life and feel a little hardwired in how you think, and I think it will be a really good opportunity to take a different perspective.”

Sunday night’s historic flight was a pivotal moment in Virgin billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s mission to make commercial space flight a reality, and ramped up competition with space rivals Elon Musk and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who is set to blast into space in nine days.

“It does democratise space,” Mr Copeland said of the current space race.

“It means space is open to the ordinary man in the streets and not just government agencies, and the astronauts who work for them.

“It has the power to change people’s perspective of Earth and hopefully for the better, so I think it could make a big difference to a lot of people’s lives.

“And hopefully over time it becomes a lot more accessible to people. Like anything, it’s more expensive in its infancy, but as they perfect it and there’s more competition and more companies offering a service like that, its going to make it more accessible.”

But until that happens, Mr Copeland is poised to become a space pioneer.

“I heard someone say there’s only been about 500 people in the history of mankind to have gone into space. Five hundred, in the billions of people who have lived on this planet,” he said.

“And to potentially be inside that first 1000 people out of billions in history, when you think about it, is quite mind-blowing.”

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