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Back in the 1990s, I was fortunate enough to be assigned not one, but two weeklong business trips to Hawaii. And another to Lake Tahoe.
There was plenty of work to do, but time for activities and entertainment as well.
And it’s been cool to say, all these years later, I got paid to go to these great places.
Earlier this week, though, I – and everybody I know – just lost any bragging rights when it comes to talking about great work trips.
Later this month, Las Crucen Jamila Gilbert, is taking a work trip … to outer space.
Gilbert, who works for Virgin Galactic, will be Astronaut 007, a mission specialist aboard VSS Unity’s return to space.
When she interviewed for the job a few years ago, she didn’t think to inquire about such travel.
“While this is a commercial human spaceflight company I just assumed it would be business as usual,” Gilbert said. “Never in a million years did I think I’d be asked or given the opportunity to go into space.”
It started when she was at home one evening in February, and she got a message from Virgin Galactic president Mike Moses. “Can I give you a quick call?” Moses asked. “It’s confidential.”
It was after hours, and as she stepped into her home office, Gilbert told her husband, “I’m going to take a quick call from the president.
“It started out like a normal conversation,” she said. “Then he said, ‘Jamila, are you sitting down?’ I said, well I can be. Then he said, ‘On behalf of Virgin Galactic I’d like to formally extend to you the role of mission specialist on our next space flight.’”
Various screaming and incoherent comments ensued before Gilbert ended the phone call and exited the office.
“Let me guess,” her husband said, after hearing the yells and seeing the dumbstruck look on his wife’s face. “You’re going to space.”
Of course, now they had a big secret to keep, one Virgin asked to share with immediate close family, if at all.
A few weeks later, at her in-laws for dinner. Gilbert’s mother-in-law asked, “So, Jamila, do you have any fun trips coming up?”
She and her husband just looked at each other and smiled.
“There could not have been a better set-up,” she said.
“More than anything it’s just been overwhelming support from Virgin team members,” Gilbert said. “Folks from across all of our locations congratulating me and other members of our crew. It’s been nothing but positivity and excitement.
“I am excited and very much looking forward to entire experience,” said the former Las Cruces High School Bulldawg. “I wouldn’t consider myself a thrill seeker, I’m more introspective. But I’m looking forward to every portion of the flight profile. It’s going to be impactful, and I’m very much looking forward to looking at earth from above, including seeing White Sands.”
I asked her if she was going to smuggle a green chile cheeseburger on board.
Not this time, anyway, but she does plan to put a few mementos and items in her multi-zippered uniform, including some New Mexico turquoise.
She’ll be one of the first 100 women ever into space, and one of very few Latinas. Gilbert expects the excitement to build each day leading to the flight.
“I’m just outside myself!”