3,2,1 blast off?

CARALISE TRAYES
Last updated 10:56 26/11/2013
Andy pierce
SPACE TRAINING: Eleven-year-old triplets, clockwise from left, Poppy, Lucy and Ruby Pierce are proud their dad Andy has the chance to be the first Kiwi in space. He leaves on Sunday for a chance to get on one of 22 space flights.

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Andy Pierce has won a chance to be the first New Zealand astronaut.

And all he did was buy some shower gel.

The North Auckland resident is one of two Kiwis heading to AXE Global Space Camp in Florida to undergo astronaut testing with a chance to fly into space on the new XCOR Lynx commercial reusable launch vehicle.

Pierce says he bought a bottle of Lynx shower gel, saw a competition on the wrapper and entered online.

"I got a phone call in June last year saying I had won. At first I thought it was somebody having a laugh. But the caller asked I send the receipt off with some forms."

Organisers called again, validating his win.

"I was still pretty numb. But now I'm excited. I've always been interested in space, since I was five and watching Apollo take off. I was gutted I had to wait four days for it to actually land on the moon."

Now Pierce has the chance to travel 106km up into space, which will technically make him an astronaut. He is flying out to Florida on Sunday to compete for a seat in one of 22 flights in the aircraft that is still being built.

The 49-year-old Silverdale Primary School caretaker has been getting used to G forces by letting friends take him on flights from the North Shore Aero Club in Dairy Flat.

The astronaut training programme includes fighter jet flights, a session in a G-force centrifuge and a flight on a zero gravity-inducing aircraft.

His 11-year-old triplet daughters and wife Donna will watch from home in Redvale while Andy travels with brother-in-law and aviation enthusiast Brendon Julian as his companion.

The second Kiwi in the competition is Hamish Fagg from Upper Hutt.

"There has been a bit of confusion from competition organisers as to who will actually get to go up in the shuttle," Pierce says. "We haven't got much information yet. So Hamish and I are taking it as ‘team Kiwi'. We are going to rip the competition apart."

The space vehicle takes off like a normal aircraft, carrying one astronaut and one passenger and lands on a runway.

Pierce says the round trip will take about an hour and will include a flat re-entry into Earth's atmosphere with 20 seconds of 4G before gliding down to land.

"I think it will be a bit of a science experiment done by the company to test taking average people on commercial flights into space to see how they handle it. One day, anyone could book a flight for around $150,000."

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If Pierce makes it through the week-long tests and is chosen, his flight into space could happen any time from January next year to December 2016.

"I'm just going to go and do my best and have fun."

- Rodney Times

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