Meet Keith Colmer, Air Force test flight pilot and veteran of two combat tours above Iraq. On Wednesday, Colmer became the second human ever tapped to pilot civilian passengers into space. He joins Chief Pilot David McKay in Richard Branson’s growing roster of Virgin Galactic’s “astronaut pilots.” It’s a brand new occupation. In the past, astronauts had limited responsibilities when it came to pushing away from earth and returning home — many of the processes were autopiloted and the bulk of an astronaut’s work was done once the shuttle left earth’s gravity. Not so with Virgin Galactic’s pilots, who may begin taking passengers to space as early as 2013. Pilots like Colmer will be tasked with dismounting from a carrier jet at 50,000 feet, rocketing to nearly 70 miles above the surface of the earth, gliding in microgravity where passengers can see 1,000 miles in every direction, and then navigating though intense G-forces back to a 2-mile long runway in New Mexico. Already, 500 passengers have signed up for the $200,000 ride. You can sign up now or wait until ticket prices return to earth.
Photo Credit: Virgin Galactic