Virgin Galactic, the space tourism enterprise founded by British tycoon Richard Branson, has, at last, achieved a pivotal moment in its journey by successfully launching its inaugural group of space tourists. The long-anticipated feat represents a significant stride toward realizing the company’s commitments after years of anticipation.

At 8:30 a.m. MT, Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered space plane, VSS Unity, embarked on its voyage from a New Mexico spaceport, lifted by an expansive twin-fuselage mothership known as VMS Eve.

Aboard were three passengers: Keisha Schahaff, an entrepreneur and health advocate, and her daughter Anastatia Mayers, both the initial space travelers from Antigua, who secured their seats through a fundraising drawing. Additionally, former Olympian Jon Goodwin, a 1972 Munich Summer Games canoeist, joined the group, becoming the second individual with Parkinson’s disease to venture into space.

Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers are the first mother and daughter pair to travel to space. (Image: Virgin Galactic)

The odyssey commenced at the New Mexico spaceport, where passengers embarked on the VSS Unity beneath the wing of the VMS Eve mothership. With a takeoff akin to an airplane, the VMS Eve rapidly ascended to an altitude surpassing 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). Upon reaching the designated height, the VMS Eve released the VSS Unity, which propelled itself using its rocket engine for about a minute, ascending vertically and penetrating the celestial expanse.

The space plane transcended 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth’s surface, a threshold the US government designates as the edge of outer space. While the international standard, the Kármán line at 62 miles (100 kilometers) above sea level, often signifies the space boundary, this distinction is somewhat ambiguous.

VSS Unity’s release phase during Galactic 02 spaceflight. (Image: Virgin Galactic)

As the space plane accelerated to supersonic speeds during its ascent, it experienced moments of weightlessness at the pinnacle of its flight before commencing a gliding descent back to Earth. The craft safely returned to the spaceport, concluding its hour-long mission.

Upon reentry, Goodwin recounted the experience as surreal, labeling it “undoubtedly the most exhilarating day” of his life. Mayer shared her profound sense of connectedness to the universe, expressing awe at being part of Earth, the cosmos, and the journey itself. Schahaff remarked that the experience imbued her with the confidence to pursue any endeavor.

The crew of Galactic 02 completes their training at Spaceport America in New Mexico. (Image: Virgin Galactic)

The 1st of Virgin Galactic accommodating tourists

The endeavor followed closely on the heels of Virgin Galactic’s triumph in June with its inaugural commercial mission, focused on research and funded by the Italian air force. This marked the first instance of Virgin Galactic accommodating tourists, contrasting with their rival, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin, which primarily catered to high-profile clients.

In this instance, Schahaff and her daughter secured their seats through a fundraiser for Space for Humanity, a nonprofit advocating broader access to space. Virgin Galactic’s upcoming endeavors promise a continuation of its remarkable accomplishments, as it endeavors to clear its extensive customer backlog and transition to its next generation of spacecraft, known as “Delta ships,” characterized by enhanced efficiency and reduced production costs.

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