Virgin Galactic has successfully took its first passengers into space, including billionaire founder Richard Branson. The event, at Spaceport America in New Mexico, was a field day for the press and employees, with an early morning Khalid set and a hero walk by Branson and the crew.
“Just imagine a world where people of all ages, backgrounds, anywhere, any gender, any ethnicity, have equal access to space,” Branson told his return. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age! ”
The remark is a little premature, of course, this world is still far away, but it is true that this flight marks a historic moment in the nascent space tourism industry. Right now, recreation enthusiasts are still an elite class, but the events of the day suggest that we are closer than ever to seeing this change.
After an incredibly early start to the day (the spaceport shuttles left at 2:45 am from nearby Las Cruces), the festivities began in true space launch style with a delay. An overnight thunderstorm prevented the team from deploying the spacecraft, which, believe it or not, cannot get wet. At the speeds and temperatures involved, nothing can be left to chance, such as the formation of ice from water in or on the chassis.
Soon the sun rose and the crowds arrived: VIPs, staff, a group of local students, and Branson’s own guest list (numbering around 150). Elon Musk also introduced himself, presumably to personally congratulate his fellow astronaut, from billionaire to billionaire.
Virgin Galactic’s Beth Moses
At 8:30 am local time, the engines started the VMS Eve, the “mother ship” carrying VSS Unity, the rocket-propelled space plane that Branson, with Virgin Galactic’s Beth Moses (his second flight), Sirisha Bandla and Colin Bennett, would climb to the edge of space.
Eve was on the wheels at 8:40 am, beginning a hold on the ground as she climbed to approximately 36,000 feet. Unity broke away and began its rocket-powered climb at around 9:24 a.m., reaching Mach 3 and after two minutes reached its maximum altitude of around 282,000 feet – around 53 miles, as planned.
The crew and passengers enjoyed a minute or two of microgravity, which they seem to have used in a remunerative way:
A planned mid-air speech by Branson proved impossible as the signal went in and out, but the craft itself proved to be more reliable, landing at 9:38 a.m.
During a party stage appearance (after a brief Khalid gig), Branson expanded on the ideas interrupted in the transmission, starting with, “It’s hot, I’m sorry,” but quickly moving on to words. more inspiring. “I have dreamed of this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me to see Earth from space. We are at the forefront of a new space age.
At a press conference shortly after, Branson answered questions from elementary school students, and the crew described the view from space and whether he saw any planets. (No, just an alien the pilot rocked during the descent, Branson said. At least one kid I’ve seen believed him.)
A long way to space
It’s a long-standing triumph for Virgin Galactic and Branson. The company was ahead of its space tourism ambitions, but in 2014 a test flight resulted in a horrific crash and the death of one of the pilots.
However, Virgin engineers and executives worked on it and built a stronger, better spacecraft that was dubbed Unity by Stephen Hawking, who was still living then – and, unsurprisingly, hoped to one day hitchhike. .
Pilots have performed test flight after test flight over the years, slowly ramping up power and finally, in 2018, hitting the edge of space. On that note, there is a slight controversy in that the exact altitude at which the atmosphere gives way to space is not completely agreed upon. Some authorities place the Kármán Line, as the imaginary border is called, 100 kilometers above sea level, others 50 miles, or about 80 kilometers.
Virgin uses the lower estimate, while its big rival, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, uses the higher. This led Bezos to cast a shadow over Virgin’s flights, claiming he didn’t want his customers to have an “asterisk” on their trip to space. When I asked about this before, a representative from Virgin said that they use the same standard as NASA and the US Air Force: pilots receive their “astronaut wings” if they exceed the standard. 50 mile mark.
Kármán hesitates, the race to send passengers into space has picked up lately, and Bezos recently announced that he will be flying aboard Blue Origin’s first crewed New Shepard rocket launch on July 22 – with her brother, a mystery passenger who paid $ 28 million for the privilege, and Wally Funk, among the first women to be trained to be astronauts in 1961, but never to be in space.
But Branson made it rain on his parade by announcing shortly after that he would be flying aboard Virgin’s first passenger launch to space (the crew and pilots got up several times) about a week earlier.
While Branson good-naturedly denied any competition between himself and Bezos (“We wish Jeff the best,” he said, adding that Bezos sent a goodwill message before the flight), it’s hard to believe. that this is quite true. While neither of the two has anything to prove at this point, surely there must be some satisfaction that Branson isn’t just going to space (a lifelong dream, as he says), but does so before his upstart rival. Although he denies it, the narrative is too tempting to be completely overturned.
The direction forward for Virgin Galactic is now clearly towards paying customers, of whom there are many. Sure, they all have a quarter of a million dollars to spend, but you might not, and for you, Branson has a special offer. They’ve partnered up with Omaze, and donations to the chosen charity will get you into a raffle of sorts, with the winner receiving two tickets to an upcoming Virgin Galactic flight. “And with my Willy Wonka hat on, a tour of Spaceport America, given by yours truly,” added Branson.
Branson expressed the hope that this will become an ongoing thing as long as the donations continue, so perhaps that is the answer to the question of how they hope, as he so often promises, to put space in. the disposition of everyone.
You can watch the whole day unfold as it did in Virgin Galactic’s archived livestream below: