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46-year-old health coach Keisha Schahaff was traveling from Antigua to London to rectify a visa situation for her 18-year-old daughter Anastatia Mayers when she ran across a random advertisement promoting space travel, The Independent reports. She randomly entered her and her daughter's name to win a free trip to space and surprisingly, out of the 165,000 other names, Schahaff and Mayers were chosen.
On August 10th, the two made history, becoming the first mother-daughter duo, first women African-Caribbeans, and Mayer becoming the youngest person to visit space. Traveling on Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic, Schahaff and Mayers joined 80-year-old British Olympian Jon Goodwin, who paid a whopping $250,000 for his seat. Goodwin was the company’s first paying customer, securing his seat in 2005 and making history as the second person with Parkinson’s disease to ever travel to space.
The spacecraft launched from New Mexico, accelerating at about 350 mph, eventually exceeding 2,000 mph. At 200,000ft, passengers were allowed to unbuckle and experience zero-gravity, immediately clinging to the plane’s 17 windows to see the spectacular view of Earth from space. They could be seen wide-eyed and in awe as their bodies floated behind them. After five minutes, they strapped themselves back to their seats and returned to earth, reaching a peak altitude of 290,422 ft or 55 miles from the Earth’s surface, officially entering space based on NASA’s definition of space starting at 50 miles above sea level.
Branson joined Schahaff and Mayers family in Antigua and Barbuda for the official launch day, the group bursting into tears as the Galactic 02 spacecraft took flight, an emotional moment for everyone involved. Branson called the moment “amazing,” making another post to highlight all the historic milestones for commercial space flight. It touched down 63 minutes after takeoff to roaring applause from the crowd, both Schahaff and Mayers speaking to press before and after the ethereal moment.
“I don’t think there’s anything else that could be more bonding than this. It is so comforting to know [she was] there with me…I was shocked at the things that you feel. You are so much more connected to everything than you would expect to be. You felt like a part of the team, part of the ship, part of the universe, part of Earth,” said Mayers.
“I’m still up there. I’m not here yet,” Schahaff added.
Virgin Galactic now joins Jeff Bezo’s Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism sector. Branson hopes to offer monthly trips to customers in the future, this most recent trip raising money for Space for Humanity, a non-profit that aims to send everyday people into space to connect them to a “grander perspective” of the issues impacting Earth.
Schahaff called the whole experience liberating, reflecting on her own childhood space dreams and the full circle moment.
“When I was two years old, just looking up to the skies, I thought, ‘How can I get there?’ but, being from the Caribbean, I didn’t see how something like this would be possible. The fact that I am here, the first to travel to space from Antigua, shows that space really is becoming more accessible,” she said.
Cover photo: These Black women just became the first mother-daughter duo to travel to space/(l to r) Anastatia Mayers & mom Keisha Schahaff/Photo Courtesy of Andres Leighton/Associated Press