Shefket Chapadjiev is ready. He’s been ready for 12 years.
But the Elk Grove Village man has been wondering lately if he’ll get the chance to rocket into space before he dies.
“My health is so-so,” the 80-year-old native Bulgarian says. “At my age, I’m still fairly well. I’ve got high blood pressure and diabetes.”
He still believes in Virgin owner British billionaire Richard Branson’s dream of commercial space flight. That’s why he paid more than $175,000 in 2007 toward a $200,000 ticket to be one of the first passengers.
“I have done everything in my life I’ve wanted to do,” he figured. “So what the hell.”
He says he has a contract with Virgin Galactic as thick as a Bible. But he’s weary of the endless emails from the space company, promising it’s going to be “soon, soon, soon” — without being given a launch date.
A couple of months ago, he called Virgin and got the director of astronaut relations.
“Listen, I’ve waited long enough. I’m 80 years old,” he told her in his thick accent. “I don’t think I’ll be able to fly. What is my option to get the money back?”
The young woman on the other end listened, then convinced him to be patient a while longer.
“She said: ‘I just want to tell you, if you don’t need the money, I would hold off for a few more months because I think this time the rocket is ready, and you are one of the first ones,’ ” he says.
Chapadjiev says he doesn’t need the money. He made a fortune in printing. But time is a-ticking.
Virgin Galactic has had setbacks with the program. Most notably, a spacecraft crashed during a test flight in 2014, killing one pilot and injuring another.
“We have to complete the test program before we can provide firm dates for the start of commercial operations,” Virgin Galactic’s Aleanna Crane says. “Our tickets are fully refundable, and we work closely with all of our customers to ensure they have the latest information on the program and to work with them on any questions they might have.”
Virgin has about 600 “future astronauts” signed up. For their $200,000 fees, they’re promised a flight, taking off from Virgin’s Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, that will last an hour and a half.
The spaceship, carrying up to six passengers, will be attached to the belly of a mothership that’s to release it after reaching an altitude of about 45,000 feet. That’s when its rocket will fire, allowing the vehicle to reach the edge of space — where passengers can then spend several minutes enjoying the view.
The company says it expects to begin flights for paying passengers some time this year.
Late last year, Sir Richard appeared on CNBC in a blue spacesuit and proclaimed: “Virgin Galactic next year: We’re going to have an incredibly exciting year. I’ll be going to space, and other people will be going to space.”
For now, Chapadjiev must content himself with the email updates, occasional gifts with the Virgin Galactic logo — including a space jacket and a key fob — as well as invitations to join Branson for swanky dinners in New York, at Virgin’s Spaceport America and at Branson’s “private island paradise” in the British Virgin Islands.
He took Branson up on the offer for dinner in New Mexico a few years back but hopes the next time he heads there, it will be to board a spaceship.
“They say it might happen this year, but, inside my heart, I’m not sure,” he says.
Sabrina Chapadjiev, one of the would-be octogenarian astronaut’s three grown children, says her father has been an adventurer going back to when he fled Communist Bulgaria in the 1960s, traipsing to freedom through a minefield.
Given how long he’s been waiting, the daughter, a musician and music teacher who lives in New York, has doubts about him making it into space, though.
But, if he does, she says she’s less anxious about that than she was when he first told her he’d bought the ticket.
”If something went wrong,” she says, “what a way to go out.”