Meet Virgin Galactic's first commercial astronaut: Keith Colmer

The first man to guide a Virgin Galactic spacecraft into the great (commercial) beyond? Former U.S. Air Force pilot Keith Colmer.

Private spaceflight outfit Virgin Galactic announced on Wednesday that it has chosen its first astronaut for commercial spaceflight. His name? Keith Colmer.

The former U.S. Air Force test pilot will soon begin flight training and testing in Mojave, Calif. with chief pilot David Mackay, with the goal of operational missions. Colmer is well-suited for the job: with more than 5,000 hours in the air with more than 90 different types of aircraft, there's little the MIT grad hasn't seen or experienced.

(His call sign in the sky: "Coma." Go get 'em, sir.)

It is, however, interesting that Virgin went with a pilot and not an existing astronaut. That mirrors NASA's old career path but demonstrates that Virgin is blazing its own path to the stars on the wings of its WhiteKnightTwo and SpaceShipTwo spacecraft.

Will the childhood dream of becoming an astronaut persist in an age of private spaceflight? Or will the quotidian nature of the job lessen its appeal? It will take many decades to answer that question. For now, private spaceflight is clearly a place where few men have gone before.

Photo: Mark Greenberg/Virgin Galactic

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