Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic reached the edge of space and came back successfully in mid-December, marking a huge success for the company and putting it proverbial light-years ahead of Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin programs.
Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo (officially known as VSS Unity), a reusable, winged spacecraft, is designed to carry eight people including a pair of pilots.
SpaceShipTwo took off from an airstrip in the Mojave Desert to travel at Mach 2.9 – that’s 2.9 times the speed of sound. Two pilots and a mannequin named Annie were onboard, and according to the company, every part of the flight was textbook. Once the spacecraft reached its zenith, it did a slow backflip and glided back to its landing strip.
According to Virgin Galactic, the flight reached an altitude of 51.4 miles – and NASA has awarded astronaut wings to pilots at lower altitudes. In fact, the Federal Aviation Administration said that the two pilots – Mark Stuckey and C.J. Sturckow – will receive commercial astronaut wings at a ceremony in Washington, D.C. next year.
“Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder,” said Branson. “This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”
Commercial space travel isn’t the only reason this is historic, though. The spacecraft was carrying four NASA experiments onboard.
“Inexpensive access to suborbital space greatly benefits the technology research and broader spaceflight communities,” said Ryan Dibley, NASA’s flight opportunities campaign manager, in a statement.
Branson himself wants to go up, too. He says that once Virgin Galactic has a safe spacecraft that can reach more than 264,000 feet, he’ll hop on board.
Check out the video from the spacecraft on Richard Branson’s Twitter feed here. (It’s amazing.)
What Do You Think?
Would you get on one of these spacecraft for a quick trip outside Earth’s atmosphere? I’d love to see what you think about this huge achievement, so please share your thoughts on my Facebook page or on Twitter.