Friday, April 19, 2024

Virgin Galactic carries its first tourist passengers to the edge of space

After years of delays, Virgin Galactic has finally carried its first tourist passengers to the edge of space. The mission achieved multiple historic milestones, showcasing how Virgin Galactic spaceflights are broadening access to space for a diverse, global community of astronauts.

The Galactic 02 flight is the second commercial flight by Virgin Galactic and the first for members of the general public who were not there to carry out specific tasks. The mission flew three private astronauts on a suborbital spaceflight aboard Virgin Galactic’s reusable space plane, VSS Unity.

The spaceplane attached to the carrier mothership VSS Eve lifted off from Spaceport America in the state of New Mexico at 8:30 am MDT. Shortly after the takeoff, the Unity rocket ship separated from Eve as planned and then fired its hybrid rocket motor, propelling it to a speed of Mach 3 to fly the crew to suborbital space, reaching a maximum altitude of roughly 55 miles (88 km).

A short time later, the passengers were given the all-clear to unbuckle and enjoy zero gravity. After that, it made an unpowered reentry and successfully landed back at Spaceport America at 9:30 am MDT – just over an hour after taking off.

In total, six people flew to space aboard VSS Unity. In addition to the three private passengers – British former Olympiad Jon Goodwin, Keisha Schahaff, and Anastatia Mayers, a mother and daughter from Antigua and Barbuda – aboard the spacecraft were the space plane’s commander C.J. Sturckow, pilot Kelly Latimer, and Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses.

The former Olympian Mr. Goodwin bought his Virgin Galactic flight ticket in 2005. He became the second person with Parkinson’s disease to go to space. Schahaff and Mayers won their tickets in a competition and became the first mother-daughter duo to fly to space together.

Additionally, the company claims to have achieved the first female astronauts from the Caribbean, the most women flown in a single space mission, the youngest person to go to space, the first Olympian to go to space, the first majority female spaceflight, the sixth and seventh Black women to go to space, and third oldest person to go to space.

“Today, Virgin Galactic took another historic leap forward by flying our first private astronaut mission and demonstrating how our spaceflights will broaden access to space,” Virgin Galactic’s CEO, Michael Colglazier, said in a statement. “Jon, Keisha, and Ana each embody our fundamental belief that space is for everyone, and we are proud that today’s flight has inspired people and communities around the world. This is just the beginning, as we plan to continue flying monthly spaceflights while also developing our Delta Class production spaceships to scale our business.”

“It is a surreal and humbling experience to have flown Unity today. The wonder and excitement of spaceflight never lose its magic. I had the honor of being joined in the cockpit by Kelly Latimer, one of the first female commercial spaceship pilots. I’m proud of the work we’re doing here at Virgin Galactic to fly more people to space,” said CJ Sturckow, VSS Unity Commander.

The company will now proceed with post-flight inspections and analysis in preparation for the next commercial space mission, ‘Galactic 03,’ which is planned for September in a continuation of Virgin Galactic’s monthly flight cadence.