Allan Gray: “My ultimate dream”

Allan Gray is a space traveller by heart, and one of the future passengers of SpaceShipTwo.

British citizen Allan Gray is a passionate space lover who has secured his place in Virgin Galactic’s commercial spaceflight program. Following every step of Sir Richard Branson, Allan is preparing himself in mind and heart every day for the exceptional journey with various space related experiences and spending time with similarly motivated people.

Dodo Newman was able to reach Allan in Greater Manchester and he was delighted to share his thoughts with her.

Dodo: I am so glad that you accepted this interview. When I have the chance to talk with astronauts and future space travellers I usually start with a very simple question: what does space mean to you?

Allan: The best way I can describe my strongest feeling about space is that when I look up at the star filled night sky, there is an overwhelming sense that somewhere out there is home and that we need to do everything possible to get out there and find our way back. I wonder if I would feel the reverse if I was heading out to deep space and looking back at the Earth becoming smaller and smaller. It is possible I have watched too much Science Fiction. We need to look after our own Planet but we are going to continue expanding and evolving as a species, and I believe space exploration is essential to our survival and continued evolution.

Dodo: Do you remember the first time in your life when you wanted to go up to space?

Allan: My Dad was into Science Fiction and he recorded the original moon landing when it was broadcast, he still has those recordings. I have a vague memory of seeing Star Wars: “The Empire Strikes back” at the cinema with my Dad for the first time and just assuming that I would be able to go up to space. Ever since then I always wanted to be an astronaut.

Dodo: You mentioned before in one of our earliest conversations that the chance to go up in space came as a “coincidence”, can you describe how this came about?

Allan: I attended a business conference in Washington DC during March 2014. I remember I only attended the conference because they said they had “a space guy” there. The space guy turned out to be Stephen Attenborough, Commercial Director at Virgin Galactic and he gave an inspirational presentation about Virgin Galactic, its technology and its mission which finished with a short clip of a spectacular test flight. I was surprised to have never heard of them before but that is more than likely because I had lived and breathed my business for around 12 years with little time for outside interests. Stephen reignited in me, a passion for space that I had long suppressed. He signed a flyer for me and wrote the message “hope to see you up there!” which I treasured as one might treasure something signed by their favourite musician. Just 3 months later, we were approached by an American company who wanted to buy our business and we completed the sale in July of 2014. The first thing I did was purchase my ticket to space, I did that before I paid off my mortgage.

Dodo: Would you send your children to space to experience it if it was possible? And if yes, then why do you think it is important for them?

Allan: Most definitely, I think all children should get the opportunity to go to space. Many astronauts say the experience is so profound that it can significantly change your outlook on life, the Planet and your place on it. Having seen our precious Planet from space at such an impressionable age, imagine what kind of adult politicians, business leaders and citizens of Earth those children would become and what a different world they would create, how they could shape the future.

Dodo: When do you expect to have your trip?

Allan: Virgin Galactic are very used to being asked that! They tend to not give timelines as each step is brand new territory and needs to be completed before moving to the next challenge. That said, my time will hopefully come in the next few years, although in a way, the journey has already begun.

Dodo: How do you prepare yourself for the trip, do you have any special training to undergo?

Allan: There are 3 days of mandatory training and medical checks that we must go through directly prior to launch. While we are waiting we are given plenty of opportunity to do some voluntary space related experiences which also happen to be a lot of fun. So far I have been in a centrifuge at NASTAR, in Philadelphia where we experienced the same G forces and flight profile we can expect on the big day. That was one of the most exhilarating things I have ever done. I have flown with The Blades aerobatic team where I was able to apply my g-force training to experience crazy manoeuvres without feeling disoriented. I am very much looking forward to a Zero G parabolic flight this year where I will get to feel what it is like to be weightless whilst trying to control my body.

Dodo: Do you have any special dream related to the space?

Allan: My ultimate dream is that within my lifetime, space becomes much more accessible to the general population. A slightly more selfish dream would be to spend some time on the International Space Station and glue my face to the window, staying there the whole time.

Dodo: The next generation is growing up on entertainment and reality shows. Their heroes are celebrities, entertainers and they hardly even know about the great achievers, discoverers of our times. How do you consider the appreciation of the astronauts in today’s world?

Allan: I think the younger generation get a lot of bad press, but haven’t they always?! Having been involved in the space community I now see things in a different way than 2 years ago. The reality is that some members of both the older and younger generation lack this type of knowledge but I do not believe that is a direct result of wilful ignorance or modern distractions. Education is where this type of knowledge should come from and everything I have seen recently is all positive, taking the right direction.

I am actively working with Galactic Unite, a collaboration between Virgin Galactic and its community of Future Astronaut customers which is supported by Sir Richard Branson’s Foundation, Virgin Unite. The purpose of Galactic Unite is to inspire and support children who will become the adults that develop the new technologies we need to push beyond our current limits of space exploration. I have taken part in a number of Google Hangouts with classrooms of fully engaged and highly interested children and teachers. There is a genuine appetite for these sessions and the demand is always high. The public support and interest in space is increasing, it was especially encouraging to see the British nation celebrate the recent launch of Tim Peake. Because of this, in particular in the UK the awareness of the space is quite high.

Dodo: Do you have any fear when imagining your space trip?

Allan: My only fear is not going to space, although I am sure there will be some natural nervousness on the day. I think some of the space related experiences I’ve done will help with that because you know what to expect from the journey.

Dodo: You mentioned that you are in contact with the community of future space travellers. What is it like to belong to such a community and what does this give you?

Allan: A friend of mine said there is some kind of undefinable spirit amongst the Future Astronaut community and she is right. Obviously there are many people around the world with this same spirit but, they are disparate from each other and rarely would you find so many of them involved in a shared adventure such as this.

We all share this passion for space, have such diverse backgrounds and stories of how we got here and yet, we have this connection that transcends the simple sharing of an interest but it’s hard to define what it is. I find meeting with fellow Future Astronauts highly addictive and powerful, you always come away feeling more positive, like anything is possible. This element of the adventure was completely unexpected but most welcome and, something I continue to embrace. I’m continually inspired by their actions which show they care for the world and its people.

Dodo: Now, when everyone is excited for the Oscars there is a space related movie called The Martian among the nominees. What is your favourite space related film?

Allan: 2010: A Space Odyssey. I watch it every now and then.

Dodo: What does energy mean to you?

Allan: Energy makes everything happen, without it there would be nothing. I think that applies in the spiritual sense as well as the obvious scientific one.

Dodo: What is your favourite colour and what does it mean for you?

Allan: Black. I am not sure why but I have always been drawn to it, most of the things I own are black but not because I am always thinking dark thoughts or anything. Aesthetically I just prefer it, it’s cool!

Dodo: Since a few years now a great battle is going on to conquer the space for private travels. Sir Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic), Elon Musk (Space-X) and Paul Allen (Vulcan Aerospace) each are competing on the technological side. How do you think this affects traditional space travel?

Allan: I would say that those you mention are not strictly competing on a like for like basis, they are effectively all on the same side and so we are all going to win the battle. Traditional organisations such as NASA will always be around but they will adapt to take advantage of the technology developed by the private sector. NASA is already outsourcing to a number of these companies because they can do it cheaper than NASA can. The industry as a whole is going to continue to accelerate at an increasing rate because of these new private space companies.

Dodo: How does commercialised space travel affect human achievement, research and discoveries?

Allan: The sky will no longer be the limit and the transformation we will go through is unimaginable, both in a technical and spiritual sense as they are intrinsically linked and will evolve together.

Dodo: Do you think there is any connection between the outward space and the inner space we have as humans?

Allan: I think they are intrinsically linked, so what is happening in the inner space is always reflected in the outer space through our actions.

Dodo: Without having been yet out in space what is your most beautiful image of it?

"Earthrise" by astronaut William Anders
“Earthrise” by astronaut William Anders. Image Credit: NASA

Allan: A photograph called “Earthrise” taken from the Moon’s orbit by astronaut William Anders in 1968. In the same way as you can see a sunrise in the morning, they were able to get a photo of the Earth rising as seen while orbiting the Moon.

Dodo: Do you think your view of life and life purpose will change after your experience of being in space? And if yes, then how?

Allan: From what I understand about those who have been there before, yes. I fully expect this to happen and in some ways it feels like it has already begun. I would like to think I already care about the world and the people on it, but I expect that it will be amplified and distorted in ways I cannot yet imagine. Whatever happens, I will fully embrace it.

A good example of how powerful it can be is when I recently met Cosmonaut Aleksandr Laveykin. When asked how these experiences affected him, he said he left Earth as an atheist and returned as a firm believer in God. That’s powerful!

Dodo: I truly appreciate sharing your experiences, thoughts and Feelings. What was your main inspiration to share your experiences?

Allan: I believe in the message it is trying to convey, some call it the overview effect, some call it the orbital perspective but either way, it has caused some highly logical and scientific minds to embrace a more spiritual outlook on life and that is something we could all benefit from.

Dodo: If you would have the chance to form a message for the future generation, what would it be?

Allan: Take care of the Planet, take care of each other and continue to make yesterday’s impossible today’s possible.

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