The last time I saw Lee Jones, he was pulling some serious G's in a centrifuge at the National AeroSpace Training and Research (NASTAR) Center in Pennsylvania. Now, he’s helping launch a program that will send one lucky space nut into space.
Jones, a founding pilot for Virgin America, is the program director for Space Ambassadors, which is being introduced this month by the National Space Society and Virgin Galactic. I talked to Jones recently about the program and—most importantly—the top assignment, aboard SpaceShipTwo.
What’s the idea behind Space Ambassadors?
The idea is to get volunteers from around the world to enroll in the Space Ambassador program and give speeches at schools and universities, communicating the benefits of space research and exploration. We want to get young people excited about careers in science, engineering and math. Our target is 1.8 to 2 million students a year through this program. There are tremendous opportunities for young people just down the road—it’s not just NASA anymore—but you have to get the proper education.
So you’ll be teaching kids about organizations besides NASA?
There are some people who didn’t know about the Ansari X Prize—which opened up a huge door--or who still don’t know about Virgin Galactic or the Google Lunar X Prize. The likelihood that NASA will beat private enterprise to the moon is slimmer every day. So we need to educate kids about all these various options to work in space.
We expect many of the volunteers to be members of the National Science Society, which has 10,000 members worldwide. People who will do this are very passionate about space. They’re dreamers.
If I sign on as an ambassador, how am I trained?
You’d be able to sign onto the website and download video, PowerPoint presentations and information you can use in your speech. We’ll provide all the materials.
OK, the big question: What’s this about one ambassador going to space?
The top ambassadors will get flight assignments. One will be on Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo. There will be other assignments, such as training at NASTAR or a Zero-G flight from Space Adventures. The assignments will be made in 2011.