Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Test Pilot Keith Colmer becomes commercial astronaut

Former U.S. Air Force test pilot Keith Colmer,44, call sign “Coma,” bested a field of more than 500 other applicants to be selected as a pilot for Virgin Galactic. Colmer’s competition included about a dozen former NASA astronauts. He is an MIT graduate and a veteran combat pilot who served in Iraq, flying tour tours in an F-16, and he was the first Air National Guard pilot to be selected to attend the U.S.A.F. test pilot school at Edwards Air Force Base.

Virgin Galactic stated in a press release, “Colmer was selected due to his 12 years of operational, developmental and experimental aircraft test flight experience, as well as more than 10 years of combined military experience in US air force spacecraft operations and flying. He has logged over 5,000 hours in more than 90 different types of aircraft. He’ll be putting those skills to work at Virgin Galactic, helping test-fly Virgin Galactic's ships -- WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo. Colmer will join Virgin's chief pilot David Mackay in the Mojave desert in California, where the test flights have been taking place."

This isn’t Colmer’s first attempt to become an astronaut. In a recent interview with New Scientist Colmer said he had applied in 2003 to NASA and was a finalist. Colmer said what really excites him about working with Virgin Galactic is meeting the people who will fly with them and giving more people access to space.
It's really about giving the average person access to space. And at the same time building competition so that you can make things a little more competitive, maybe come up with some new technologies and lower [space flight] costs,” Colmer said. “It's an incremental step to do orbital operations. It's baby steps, but you miss 100 per cent of the shots you don't take.
Colmer told "I am extremely honored to have been the first astronaut pilot selected through competition to join the team. Virgin Galactic is truly revolutionizing the way we go to space, and I am looking forward to being a part of that."
Virgin Galactic's president and CEO, George Whitesides, added: "Keith brings the kind of tremendous multi-dimensional talent and skill set that we are looking for in our astronaut pilots. But equally important to us are his impeccable character and his outstanding record of high caliber performance in highly demanding environments. He sets the bar very high for others to come."

Virgin Galactic hopes to conduct powered suborbital flights of its WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo vehicles in 2012, with commercial flights beginning late that year or in 2013.
A Virgin Galactic spokesman said the company plans to hire several additional astronauts as commercial operations commence, and it's not yet known who will pilot the first flight of six paying customers into space, at a reported fare of $200,000.
The company last week dedicated a terminal at SpacePort America in Las Cruces, N.M., which will serve as its initial base for commercial flights. Flight testing is presently based in Mojave, Calif., and also includes pilots from vehicle manufacturer, Scaled Composites.

To read more of New Scientist’s interview with Colmer click here.

Click here to read the Virgin Galactic press release.


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