COLOMBIAN-BORN BUSINESSMAN DAVID MENDAL RESERVED A $200,000 SEAT ON VIRGIN GALACTIC’S SPACE SHIP II, WHICH WILL TAKE HIM TO SUBORBITAL ZERO-GRAVITY FLIGHT—A DREAM COME TRUE.
By Virginia Gil and Nelson Agelvis
David Mendal has always set sky-scraping standards for himself and his businesses. Early in life, he developed a romance with aviation and began to frequent airports. As his love of flying grew over the years, it would eventually lead him to pursue his childhood dream of becoming a pilot. Having earned degrees from both Bentley University and Mitchell College, Mr. Mendal’s already high self-expectations were cultivated further through piloting. He developed a “no room for error” ethic that he applies to his personal life as well as his business practices. Mendal says, “If you make the wrong decision in flight, you don’t get a second chance. That gives me the strength to say nothing is impossible on the ground.”
As Mr. Mendal developed an appreciation for destinations around the world, he was introduced to luxury hotels and the high-end traveler lifestyle. It was from here that his unstoppable resolve began, which over time, would manifest itself in several successful businesses. He is a commercial pilot in aviation and has created another successful frontier for private air travel, Privé Jets. Although, it was his dream of becoming one of the first civilian space travelers that would further his resolve to partner with Virgin Galactic.
Being outside Earth’s atmosphere, looking out into infinity, floating away from the bonds of gravity…for many years this was the privilege of few, or the material of the heated imagination of Hollywood screenwriters, but now, it will become a reality for this man from Bogota.
Far removed from his beginnings, at age 9 when he “worked for the pleasure of it” in the administrative center of Avianca Airlines in Bogota, he says: “This passion of mine for aviation comes from many years ago. I was interested in the topic of travel and saw what Virgin was doing. I went to pay a visit to Space Port America, from where the ship will take off, and was amazed. People do not seriously believe that they are building a spaceport.”
For Mendal, his journey into space is not fantasy or an illusion. In addition to Spaceport, he knows all the detailed specifications of Space Ship II, the ship that will take him to space at three times the speed of sound. He also has a letter signed by Virgin Galactic president Richard Branson, which confirms his reservation, and which will not take effect before 2014.
With a model of the capsule, which will take him along with five other travelers to beyond 100 miles altitude, he explains how he will join a list of dozens of passengers who, like him, agreed to pay $200,000 for the ticket of their dreams.
“The launch vehicle carries the spacecraft. At 50,000 feet, the launch vehicle returns to Earth and the spacecraft goes up, driven by a rocket. Within 90 seconds it reaches an altitude of 110 kilometers, at which point you’re in zero gravity” he says.
Upon reaching weightlessness, for five minutes, passengers will be released from their seats to float throughout the cabin, to the windows, and see planet Earth from a perspective that until now only astronauts had enjoyed.
…it reaches an altitude of 110 kilometers, at which point you’re in zero gravity
Mendal says that the first thing he will do is to look for the exact spot at which Central and South America unite, to see his country as no Colombian has ever seen it before: from space.
The calm and silence of space is followed by the thrill of reentry into the atmosphere, in which for several seconds, passengers will experience nearly six times the regular force of Earth’s gravitational pull. Mendal compares this part of the journey with the experience of riding a roller coaster, and he assures he has no fear whatsoever and that he’s “one hundred percent” determined to do this.
Although he cannot reveal the names of other compatriots interested in this space adventure, Mendal confirmed that there already is another Colombian enrolled, a man of 65, who sees this voyage into space as the realization of a dream that he never thought he would see fulfilled during his lifetime.
Moreover, he claims that there are “many others” who often call to ask about the trip and they’re just waiting for the first daring adventurers to return safely home to convince themselves that it’s perfectly safe, and book their seats. Therefore, Mendal has no doubt that this is just the beginning, and that in the future, this could even be an alternative to reach remote areas of the planet faster and with the bonus of a zero gravity experience.
He closes by saying: “It’s the concept of suborbital travel, that is: travel the world outside the atmosphere, where gravity is not a factor in fuel costs. Just knowing that at this moment anyone over 18 can experience entering space, will open up the doors.” A