NS-18 liftoff
Blue Origin’s New Shepard lifts off Oct. 134 on the NS-18 mission, the second flight of the vehicle to carry people. Credit: Blue Origin webcast

WASHINGTON — Virgin Galactic has selected the winner of a contest to fly on a future SpaceShipTwo suborbital flight while Blue Origin prepares for its first New Shepard launch with a full six-person crew.

Virgin Galactic announced Nov. 24 that Keisha Schahaff of Antigua won two seats in a contest the company conducted with charity fundraising platform Omaze and nonprofit Space for Humanity. Schahaff was one of 164,338 people who purchased raffle seats for the seats, raising $1.7 million for Space for Humanity’s Citizen Astronaut Program.

“It was always a childhood dream for me to go into space,” she said in a YouTube video about winning the contest. “It’s a very big, very beautiful adventure, and just to have the opportunity to do it, why not? So that’s why I’m going into space.”

Schahaff, a health and energy coach, will be the first of Virgin Galactic’s 700 current customers to be from the Caribbean. She said in the company announcement of the trip that she hopes to have her daughter, an astrophysics student, take the other seat.

Virgin Galactic did not announce when Schahaff would fly. When the company announced the competition immediately after its July 11 flight that took company founder Richard Branson to space, it said that the winners would be on “an early Virgin Galactic commercial flight.” Those commercial flights, though, will not begin until at least late 2022 after the company completes an extended maintenance period of its vehicles, according to a schedule the company provided in a Nov. 8 earnings call.

Virgin Galactic’s announcement came a day after Blue Origin revealed the six people who will fly on its next New Shepard mission, NS-19, scheduled for Dec. 9 from its Launch Site One facility in West Texas. That will be the third New Shepard flight with people on board, and the first carry a full complement of six people. The first two crewed flights carried four people each.

Two of the six will be guests of Blue Origin. One, Laura Shepard Churchley, is the eldest daughter of Alan Shepard, the first American to go to space in 1961 and the namesake of the vehicle. The other, Michael Strahan, is a former professional football player and current television host.

Strahan, who covered the first crewed New Shepard launch in July and interviewed Jeff Bezos minutes after that flight, said he was approached by the company about going on this flight. “Without hesitation I said yes,” he said on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” where he announced his flight. “I just wanted to be part of it. I was really enamored by the first flight I saw.”

The other four are customers, each paying an unspecified amount for their seats. Dylan Taylor is chairman and chief executive of Voyager Space, which owns several space companies, and founder of Space for Humanity. Evan Dick is an investor and engineer who previously worked for D.E. Shaw and Highbridge Capital. Lane Bess is the founder of a family fund supporting technology companies and previously helped start two cybersecurity companies. He is also the father of Cameron Bess, a content creator who will also be on the flight. The Besses will be the first parent-child pair to fly to space together.

Jeff Foust writes about space policy, commercial space, and related topics for SpaceNews. He earned a Ph.D. in planetary sciences from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and a bachelor’s degree with honors in geophysics and planetary science...