Friday 11 August 2023

Virgin Galactic takes its first tourists to the edge of space


After many years of delays, Virgin Galactic has carried its first tourist passengers to the edge of space, including British former Olympiad Jon Goodwin, and Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, a mother and daughter from Antigua and Barbuda.

The Galactic 02 flight is the second commercial flight by Virgin Galactic and the first for members of the general public who are not aboard VSS Unity to carry out specific tasks. The spaceplane lifted off attached to the mothership VSS Eve from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 8:30 am MDT. In addition to the passengers, aboard the craft were Mission Commander CJ Sturckow, Pilot Kelly Latimer, and Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses.

At an altitude of 44,300 ft (13,500 m), Unity was released from the mothership and fired its hybrid rocket motor, propelling it to a speed of Mach 3 in eight and a half seconds and a maximum altitude of 55 miles (88.5 km), before making an unpowered reentry and touching down at 9:30 am MDT.

Goodwin is a retired Olympic slalom canoeist and one of the first people to book a Virgin Galactic flight in 2005. Schahaff and Mayers won their tickets in a Virgin Galactic drawing that they entered for a US$10 charitable donation to the non-profit organization Space For Humanity.

Virgin Galactic said that the flight set a number of records, though these required a certain amount of hair splitting and the acceptance of the contention that Galactic 02 technically reached space or that passengers can qualify as astronauts. That being said, the company claims to have achieved the first female astronauts from the Caribbean, first mother-daughter duo to go to space, most women flown in a single space mission, 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, the second person with Parkinson’s to go to space, and third oldest person to go to space.

The next flight is scheduled for September when the company introduces a monthly service.

"It is a surreal and humbling experience to have flown Unity today," said Sturckow. "The wonder and excitement of spaceflight never loses 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."

The video below is a recap of the flight.

Source: Virgin Galactic/NewAtlas

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