Virgin Galactic, the branch of the British Virgin Group corporation that aims to render commercial space flight a reality, has officially unveiled the interior of its "Gateway to Space" building at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The facility will play a critical role in the company’s space tourism endeavor, including as a workspace for Virgin employees and a waiting area for the families of prospective private astronauts.
The Gateway to Space building sits on the 18,000-acre Spaceport America campus and was originally designed by the international architecture firm Foster + Partners in 2011. With Virgin Galactic’s civilian space travel program beset by numerous delays, the building has served primarily as an aircraft hangar for the past eight years. The now completed two-story interior is designed to accommodate lounge space for guests on the first level and staff offices on the second. A third floor, which is still under construction, will be used as a passenger training center for three days of coaching before each flight.
While one might expect a spaceport to be full of tech gadgets and screens, the design of the passenger lounge is surprisingly warm. Labeled Gaia, and designed by the London-based Viewport Studio, the lounge makes use of natural materials and colors that ground the space in the surrounding landscape. With expansive views of the desert just outside the Gateway's double-height windows, the natural wood textures, stonework, and earth-tone upholstery contribute to the overall visual unity of the experience. Most of the seating around the perimeter of the space faces outward, giving guests prime views of the land, runway, and sky. Viewport has worked with other branches of the Virgin Group before, including as an aircraft interior designer for Virgin Atlantic.
With a high-end bar at its center and all of the components of a first-class airport lounge, Gaia promises to live up to the swanky—and completely unprecedented—experience of space tourism. Only the families of ticketed passengers, each of who will pay upwards of $250,000 for a few moments of weightlessness at the edge of Earth’s atmosphere, will have access to the lounge. Passengers themselves will also be able to use Gaia before and after their flights. Virgin Galactic aims to launch its first civilian astronauts into space in 2020.