Virgin Galactic undertakes maiden tourism voyage after decades of promises. Virgin Galactic, the space tourism company founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, has successfully launched its first space tourists to the edge of the cosmos, marking a significant step toward fulfilling decades’ worth of promises.
VSS Unity, the company’s rocket-powered spacecraft, took off from a New Mexico spaceport at 8:30 a.m. mountain time attached to an enormous twin-fuselage mothership.
It carried three passengers: entrepreneur and health and wellness coach Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Anastasia Mayers — the first space travelers from Antigua who won their seats in a fundraiser drawing — along with former Olympic canoeist Jon Goodwin, who competed in the 1972 Munich Summer Olympics. Goodwin became the second Parkinson’s disease patient to travel to space.
The group’s voyage commenced at Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in New Mexico, where the passengers boarded the VSS Unity as it sat beneath the wing of the VMS Eve mothership.
The VMS Eve lifted off like an airplane, hurtling down a runway before climbing to an altitude of over 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). After reaching the specified size, the VMS Eve released the VSS Unity, which ignited its rocket engine for approximately one minute as it soared directly upward, propelling it toward the stars.
The vehicle traveled more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) above the Earth’s surface, an altitude the United States government considers the boundary of outer space. (Internationally, the Kármán line, 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, is commonly used to mark the boundary between our planet and outer space; however, there is much ambiguity.)
As it rose, the spacecraft achieved supersonic speeds. At the zenith of its flight, the vehicle spent a few minutes in weightlessness before entering free fall and gliding back to the spaceport at 9:30 a.m. MT. The trip took one hour.
Meet the team
This mission followed the success of the first commercial mission undertaken by Virgin Galactic in June. This inaugural flight was a research mission with Italian air force-funded passengers, as opposed to celebrities and affluent thrill-seekers like those flown by Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin, Virgin Galactic’s chief competitor. (However, future Virgin Galactic flights are anticipated to include notable passengers.)
Thursday’s mission marked the first time Virgin Galactic carried vacationers or passengers flying for the experience instead of professional purposes.
Schahaff and her daughter Mayers won their seats in a drawing that generated $1.7 million in grants for Space for Humanity, a non-profit organization dedicated to expanding access to space.
In May, a Jamaican-American and a Virgin Galactic employee were among the first people from the Caribbean islands to travel to space.
“When I was two years old and observing the sky, I wondered, ‘How can I get there?’ Last month, Schahaff stated in a press release, “Being from the Caribbean, I did not believe that something like this was possible.” “The fact that I am the first person from Antigua to travel to space demonstrates that space is becoming more accessible.”
Mayers, age 18, is a second-year undergraduate studying philosophy and physics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. According to Virgin Galactic, she became the second youngest individual to travel to space. Oliver Daemen, who was 18 when he accompanied Bezos on Blue Origin’s inaugural passenger voyage in 2021, holds the current record.
Goodwin was among the first customers of Virgin Galactic, which began selling tickets more than a decade ago.
Goodwin stated that he was determined to board a flight despite being diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014.
“And now for me to go to space with Parkinson’s is completely magical,” he stated in a press release. “I hope this encourages all those who face adversity and demonstrates that obstacles do not have to prevent them from pursuing their dreams.”
Long have proponents argued that space travel is ideal for people with physical impairments, as the weightless environment could be simpler to navigate and improve mobility.
John McFall, a 19-year-old Paralympic sprinter who lost a limb in a motorcycle accident, was recruited by the European Space Agency to test this hypothesis further. McFall will partake in feasibility studies to determine how space stations and other spacecraft can be adapted to accommodate the needs of individuals with disabilities.
What is the future of space tourism?
Carrying its first passengers is a monumental achievement for Virgin Galactic, a company founded in 2004 that has repeatedly missed deadlines for fulfilling promises to conduct frequent journeys to the edge of space.
Now that it is operational, the company can focus on its extensive backlog of consumers who have booked flights. About 800 tickets have been sold by Virgin Galactic, including 600 at prices up to $250,000 and a couple hundred at $450,000 per ticket.
During a call with investors on August 4, CEO Michael Colglazier referred to the company’s recent successes as an “outstanding achievement.”
“Galactic 02 will pave the way for a new era of suborbital human spaceflight that will significantly expand access to space for private individuals,” he said, referring to the mission scheduled for Thursday.
Before 2023, Virgin Galactic underwent an extensive “enhancement” process to improve its flight hardware. Several errors in previous test flights necessitated the work.
The company intends to use its VSS Unity space aircraft and VMS Eve mothership until at least 2026, after which it will introduce a new line of hardware known as “Delta ships.”
Colglazier added that it is anticipated that these aircraft will cost less to produce and will be able to conduct more flights in less time.