Virgin Galactic Successfully Reaches Space in New Test Flight, Opening Another Door for Space Tourism

Thursday, 13 December 2018 - 1:29PM
Technology
Space
Thursday, 13 December 2018 - 1:29PM
Virgin Galactic Successfully Reaches Space in New Test Flight, Opening Another Door for Space Tourism
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Jeff Foust – CC BY 2.0
Two weeks ago, we reported that Virgin Galactic was planning to fly their first crew into space before Christmas. Considering all the setbacks and delays Virgin Galactic has faced in the past (which total about 11 years and two deadly incidents), there was a healthy amount of skepticism that the flight wasn't going to happen on schedule. In spite of it all, Virgin Galactic's test flight today ended in a resounding success, with the company's Virgin Spacecraft Unity climbing 51 miles into the atmosphere and breaching the lower boundary of space.

The crew aboard the spacecraft consisted of retired astronaut Rick Sturckow and pilot Mark Stucky, who will receive official astronaut wings from the FAA (which, to be honest, is probably the coolest thing you can receive). The two were brought to an altitude of about 43,000 feet by a specially designed Virgin Galactic jet, which then released the spacecraft. Upon detaching, Unity fired its rocket engines and made it the rest of the way.

During a presentation at Silicon Valley Comic-Con last year, a Virgin Galactic representative explained what it would be like to go up in one of their spacecraft, telling the audience that though passengers would spend only a few minutes in actual space, the important part wouldn't be the sense of weightlessness or the novelty of breaching the atmosphere, it would be the 'overview effect,' the ability to look down on the Earth and see it as it truly is: a single planet that we all need to share.

Now that the first test flight has been successful, we're hoping that Richard Branson follows through on his promise to be Virgin Galactic's first non-crew passenger...and that the spacecraft proves stable enough to fly the 600-plus people who have already paid up to $250K for a ticket.

Cover image: Jeff Foust – CC BY 2.0
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