A giant leap for space tourism
Virgin Galactic, founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, has taken its first-time paying customers to the far reaches of space – a milestone for the future of space tourism.
The company’s inaugural commercial flight last Thursday was a search-focused mission with passengers funded by the Italian Air Force — not celebrities or thrill-seekers like those targeted by Virgin Galactic’s main competitor: Blue Origin by Jeff Bezos.
The mission carried two members of the Italian Air Force – Col. Walter Veladi, who is also expected to fly into orbit on a paid mission for SpaceX; and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi, a physician trained as a surgeon for the Russian cosmonaut crew.
The journey began at the Virgin Galactic spaceport in New Mexico, where passengers boarded the VSS Unity ship as it was strapped under the wing of a massive double-body mothership, an aircraft called VMS Eve.
VMS Eve took off like an airplane, rolling down a runway before climbing to more than 40,000 feet (12,192 meters). After reaching the specified altitude, VMS Eve launched the VSS module, which then fired its rocket engine for about a minute as it lunged straight, sending it rocketing toward the stars.
The craft ventured more than 80 kilometers above the Earth’s surface, an altitude considered by the US government to be the frontier of outer space.
The space plane reached supersonic speeds as it flew upwards. At the height of its flight, the spacecraft spent a few minutes in weightlessness as it entered free fall and slid toward the spaceport for landing on the runway. The whole trip took about an hour and a half.
Virgin Galactic has spent the past two decades preparing an upgraded version of the Rutan spaceplane — designed to be large enough to carry passengers in the cabin — for commercial service.
The company has also been losing money for years, burning cash as it tries to complete its test flights and start welcoming customers — some of whom paid for their tickets more than a decade ago.
The company sold about 800 tickets, 600 at prices as high as $250,000 and a few hundred at $450,000 per ticket.
Currently, fee-paying customers who travel into space must sign documents.Prior approvalRecognize the risks before they fly.
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