Since her very first astronomy class in primary school, Anastatia Mayers has dreamed of going into space.
Now about to enter her second year studying Physics and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, Anastatia is about to embark on the journey of a lifetime: one that will take her into suborbital space.
Today, Anastatia, from Antigua, will embark on the Galactic 02 flight, launched by Virgin Galactic.
Also part of the crew is her mother, Keisha Schahaff, who won their places onboard after entering a sweepstake by fundraising company Omaze.
And her mission into space has been intertwined with the University from the very beginning.
“My mom read about the competition back in 2021 while we were on our way to another Caribbean Island to get my visa for studying at the University of Aberdeen,” Anastatia remembers. “We had to take an insane detour. So instead of a one-hour flight, it was 16 hours through London and then back down into the Caribbean.
“It was on that flight my mom randomly entered this competition, which I had no clue about until I was here in Scotland. When she told me she had entered, I was very sceptical about it. I thought she was joking.
“But the one thing I did make sure was if she was going into space, it was going to be with me.”
Thinking nothing more of it, Anastatia put the competition to the back of her mind, turning her attention to settling into the Granite City and making friends in her new community. Until a call from her mother changed everything.
“That day I was going about as normal and I got a FaceTime call from my mom. I thought she was just checking in to see how I was doing because it was the first time I had been living in another country independently from her.
“That was when she told me we won the trip to space. I remember saying ‘What are you talking about? You’ve finally lost it’. I was in utter shock. I wasn't able to piece my words together. I was in disbelief. I’m still processing the fact we get to do this.”
That November, Keisha was surprised at her home in Antigua by Sir Richard Branson who delivered the news she’d won the two seats on the Galactic 02 flight. It will be Virgin Galactic’s first ever private astronaut mission.
Anastatia continues: “It took me quite a while to tell anyone. It took a long time to come to terms with it. But I started by telling my closest friends, including some of the closest people I have met over here in Aberdeen and some friends back in Antigua. My friends are over the moon, so excited for me and so supportive.”
Preparing for lift off
Anastatia has now had a year and a half to prepare for her trip of a lifetime. While the real hands-on training started this weekend in New Mexico – where the flight will launch from – she has been spending time in the run up to it preparing herself for the experience as best she can.
“I've been doing my best to mentally prepare for it, trying to understand this is actually happening. I wanted to create some goals and figure out the things I want to get out of this. I’m just trying to make it a meaningful and lasting experience.
“I’ve been focusing on my character. I'm hoping to become a more open-minded, more opportunistic and positive person.
“I think this whole experience has taught me to believe in myself and have faith in my abilities as well as my luck and the universe itself. I think it's teaching me to trust the process and the biggest thing is to not put yourself down.”
And, she says, it helps that her ‘biggest supporter’ will be by her side the entire time.
“I'm very grateful to be doing this with my mom, there is no one else I would choose to experience this with. I don't think there's anything else that could be more bonding than this. It is so comforting to know she's there with me. It's a very big event, it's mind blowing in itself and having my mom there with me and having the ability to support each other is very comforting.”
Making space more ‘accessible’
When Anastatia launches into space, she and her mother will be breaking a number of boundaries and barriers in pursuit of ‘broadening access’ to space.
By Virgin Galactic’s count, Anastatia will be the youngest person to have ventured into space by just a matter of weeks. She and Keisha will be the first astronauts from Antigua, the first mother-daughter duo in space and they will both be joining the handful of black women who have been to space.
Anastatia says: “It's incredible. I think it is a very eye opening and grounding realisation to be part of this group. I hope this can be inspirational for other people that fit into my criteria and this stimulates people to dream bigger and to follow through with their dreams.”
One of Virgin Galactic’s missions is “turning the impossible into the inevitable”; their website states: “The future of space travel has arrived”.
And Anastatia and Keisha’s flight is just the first in a long line planned by the company, who hope to make space tourism as “accessible” as possible.
“It was meant to happen”
Anastatia’s time at the University has played its part in her adventure into space since before she even arrived on campus.
“My journey to the University of Aberdeen was all very random. Originally, I was going to take a gap year after I graduated high school. But one day my mom said I should go to university. I was looking at a bunch of different universities, ones that had courses that fit my interest. I randomly chose the University of Aberdeen.
“I read a little bit about it. I liked the buildings and the culture connected to it. I thought the community was very open and safe as well. I only applied to one university and I got in. All this ties together with luck: that's another reason I'm being so optimistic about the future.
“Had I not applied for the University of Aberdeen and had all these little events not happened, it's likely we wouldn't be going on this trip. So I do feel a very deep connection to Scotland and the University also. I feel like it was all meant to happen.”
With two more years of studies in Physics and Philosophy to go and ambitions of working in astrobiology, Anastatia’s time in space is what some might call the best possible work experience for her future.
“I've had a lot of different interests, mainly in science and English. I think the one consistent thing is my curiosity about space. I've been curious about it since about grade four when we started learning about astronomy.
“In terms of my degree, physics directly connects to space. But I think the more interesting connection is with philosophy. Going into the course, I knew nothing about it and in some ways I hoped it would connect with physics, which it does.
“It's also very grounding to learn about how societies work, how the earth works, how the mind works, and to understand yourself and others more deeply. I think that is one of the founding ways you can understand anything else.
“I think if you can't understand yourself and the community you live in, it's near impossible to grasp something so much bigger than that.
“Going into space was a dream I hadn't really taken seriously. I want to be able to explore space and share that with the rest of society. I want to be able to make this information and this experience very accessible for other people as it now is for myself.”