30 July 2023

Ex-Olympian with Parkinson’s, 80, set for Virgin space flight after 18-year wait

30 July 2023

An 80-year-old former Olympian with Parkinson’s disease is to blast off on Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism flight next month – 18 years after buying his 250,000 dollar (£194,500) ticket.

Jon Goodwin competed as a canoeist in the 1972 Games in Munich and said he will be the first Olympian to become an astronaut when the VSS Unity takes off from New Mexico in the USA for a 90-minute trip into space on August 10.

Mr Goodwin, from Newcastle, who holds various records for canoeing expeditions, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 and hopes his latest adventure will inspire others to do “abnormal things”.

On Sunday, he told BBC Breakfast it feels “completely surreal” to finally be on the verge of the voyage he booked in 2005.

He said he is “extremely excited” for what will be the “icing on the cake” after a life of doing “exciting things”.

“I always believed it would happen, a lot of people didn’t,” Mr Goodwin said.

“I had a lot of faith in the project and went out to the Mojave Desert (in California) a number of times, watched the development, which was really interesting. So, I watched it right from the beginning.”

Asked if the cost of the ticket still seems worth it, he said: “I think it’s incredibly well-spent money. If, at the time, I was doing it with the Russians, it would have cost me millions of dollars.”

Reflecting on his Parkinson’s diagnosis, he said: “I hope it instils (sic) other people to do what I’m doing, that it doesn’t stop them from doing abnormal things. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Since his diagnosis, Mr Goodwin has climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro and cycled back down.

Virgin Galactic said he will be only the second person diagnosed with Parkinson’s to fly to space.

It might be that I need to go to the Moon or something

On signing up for the mission in 2005, he told BBC Breakfast: “I just saw it… When it came up I was the fourth person to pick up the phone and sign up; there’s now 700 following behind me.

“It was just to have the opportunity to do something very few other people have done – more people have climbed Everest than have gone into space.

“So, I do hesitate on certain things, inasmuch as there’s no toilet on this rocket ship, I have to go back to wearing nappies which I can’t remember the last time I had a nappy on.”

Asked how he will top going into space and back, he joked: “It might be that I need to go to the Moon or something.”

Those on board will enter sub-orbital space, where they will briefly experience weightlessness and be able to take in extraordinary views of the planet.

He added: “I’m very thankful to Virgin Galactic because when I got Parkinson’s I thought they were going to tell me that I couldn’t do it, but they’ve never consulted me about it, they’ve just assumed I’m fit enough to do it.

“My wife’s always fully supportive of whatever I want to do. We have two boys and they’re both coming out to see me whizz into space.

“The two boys think it’s what Dad does, it’s not unusual for them.”

Keisha Schahaff, 46, and her 18-year-old daughter, Anastatia Mayers, will join Mr Goodwin on the trip, becoming the first mother and daughter to go into space, after winning a coveted place in a prize draw.

The trip will raise funds for Space For Humanity, a non-profit group which seeks to send ordinary citizens into space to give them a “grander perspective” on the challenges facing Earth.

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