British pilot first to captain Richard Branson's space tourism flights
A British pilot is set to become the first captain to fly tourists into space.
David Mackay, 53, will be the top pilot for Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic when it begins its first sub-orbital space flights by 2013.
More than 400 passengers have already paid £125,000 for the weightless flight 100km above the earth's surface.
Mr Mackay of Salisbury, Wiltshire, has harboured a life-long dream of being an astronaut.
He told the Daily Mail: 'I was a frustrated astronaut all my life. I grew up at a time when space seemed to have no boundaries and lots of us presumed humans would be living on the moon and landing on Mars.
'When I was 12, I saw the Apollo moon landings and I thought that was really fantastic and exciting and thought that's what I want to do.
'I found out that those astronauts were ex-test pilots, so I rather ambitiously decided that I would join the RAF, become a test pilot, then become an astronaut.'
David has immersed himself in preparation for the flight, temporarily swapping his home for the Mojave Desert testing ranges in California, taking test flights in Virgin's WhiteKnightTwo 'mothership'.
The WhiteKnightTwo is a jet-powered cargo aircraft which will be used to launch the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft carrying commercial passengers.
It will take about an hour for the mothership to reach an altitude of 50,000ft before the spacecraft it is carrying is launched.
The spaceship will then fire its rocket motor and accelerate to 2,500mph in less than a minute as it leaves the atmosphere.
Describing what the passengers will experience, Mr Mackay said: 'It will be close to 4g acceleration which is a huge push in the back.
'So it will be a very exciting rocket ride, it will last about a minute and they will be pinned back into their seats.
'There will be a bit of noise and vibration so they'll definitely know they are on their way into space.'
Once the ship is 360,000ft above the planet, passengers will be allowed to undo their seatbelts and experience weightlessness.
They will also see the Earth from above before the craft makes its return in the three-and-a-half hour journey.
David spent 16 years with the RAF, before joining Virgin Atlantic as a captain in 1995. He is one of just four pilots selected to become Virgin Galactic test pilots working with the development team at Virgin's Spaceport centre in the US, and believes his experience makes him the obvious choice to be the first pilot to take tourists into space.
Would you fancy joining him on a trip into space? Let us know below...
Video: Inside Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo