It’s a historic day for Virgin Galactic Holdings as the VSS Unity successfully reached space and returned safely to Earth an hour after leaving the ground, completing its first fully crewed spaceflight.
Billionaire Sir Richard Branson was one of the space travelers in the plane. He was accompanied on the mission by Unity’s two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three Galactic employees – Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla. They flew high above New Mexico in the US in the vehicle that his company has been developing for 17 years.
“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson said in a press conference after touching down. “The whole thing was just magical.”
The trip also makes him the first of the new space tourism pioneers to reach space, beating Tesla’s Elon Musk and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos.
The height reached by Sir Richard appears to have been 85km (282,000ft; 53 miles), over the New Mexico desert. The flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin.
The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.
Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “This is a landmark achievement for the Company and a historic moment for the new commercial space
industry. With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
This maiden journey gave a glimpse of the journey Virgin Galactic’s Future
Astronauts can expect when the company launches commercial service following the
completion of its test flight program.
Sir Richard Branson said: “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. 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.”
Branson continued: “Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with our 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.”