Virgin Galactic has successfully completed its first fully crewed spaceflight. The test flight marked the 22nd flight of Unity and the fourth rocket-powered spaceflight. It was the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s billionaire founder Richard Branson.
The privately built and operated Virgin Galactic spaceplane, VSS Unity, successfully took off from Spaceport America, New Mexico. The successful flight came after tragedy, multiple delays, and plenty of rivalries.
In addition to the company’s founder Branson, the crew also includes Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Flight Operations Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and two pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci at the controls of VSS Unity.
The mission includes VSS Unity reaching a speed of Mach 3 (3,581 km/h) after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The rocket-powered spacecraft reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 km), before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America – after a 60-minute flight.
The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the conditions for conducting research, and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America. During the flight, the passengers and crew also saw the views of Earth from space and experienced a period of weightlessness before re-entering the Earth’s atmosphere.
“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space,” said Sir Richard Branson. “We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honored to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.“
“Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true,” Branson continued.
This first full test of SpaceShipTwo paves the way for commercial spaceflights if and when they start in 2022. Virgin Galactic recently has received FAA approval to fly paying passengers to space.