The era has begun where space exploration is now within the reach of civilians, well, those with enough money to pay. Going into space will no longer be limited to those who prepare for years to conduct research. It is now possible to see the Earth in all its splendor thanks to companies such as Virgin Galactic that yesterday, July 11, successfully carried out its fourth flight in which its CEO, Richard Branson participated.
Branson, and his Virgin Galactic team made a clean landing in New Mexico Sunday after launching into space aboard the company's SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. The mission, dubbed Unity 22, marked the fourth test flight into space for the vehicle and the first for the company's creator who is now 70 years old and has been waiting more than a decade for his trip.
The SpaceShipTwo plane, nicknamed VSS Unity, took off at 9:40 am, Mexico City time, connected to the double-fuselage WhiteKnight plane. After about 50 minutes, Unity fell from the center of the spacecraft to an altitude of about 45,000 feet. Moments later, the spacecraft fired its single rocket engine to fly to the edge of space, reaching 53.5 miles above the ground.
With these maneuvers, the crew enjoyed a few moments of weightlessness before returning to land in New Mexico at Spaceport America, the backbone of Virgin Galactic's nascent space tourism business.
Branson shared a congratulatory handshake with his fellow crew members as VSS Unity entered microgravity later calling the flight a once-in-a-lifetime experience as heard on the plane's choppy communications line with control of Land. In fact, Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses told reporters that the craft looked perfect upon landing, although he conceded that they had had an antenna problem that caused a live video feed from the interior of the cabin will fail during key moments of the flight.
Once he landed, Branson hopped out of VSS Unity and into a crowd of photographers, kids, and enthusiasts on the outskirts of Spaceport America. He could barely contain his excitement in a post-flight ceremony, I was face down a few minutes ago," he said.
The businessman also shared in his message: “I think that, like most children, I have dreamed of this moment, but honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view of the Earth from space. Imagine a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity, have equal access to space, ” Branson said upon returning. Welcome to the dawn of a new space age! "
Onboard SpaceShipTwo with Branson were two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three other crew members in the cockpit: Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, Chief Operations Engineer Colin Bennett, and Vice President of Government Affairs and Operations. Research, Sirisha Bandla.
It was also noted that Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield awarded Branson and the crew gold-colored pins to inaugurate their new status as commercial astronauts, having flown above the 50-mile line considered space by the Federal Aviation Administration. However, there is some controversy since the SpaceShipTwo spacecraft reached an altitude of 53.5 miles when the Kármán line (the formal demarcation by space) is 62 miles so there are those who point out that, in reality, they cannot be considered to have arrived in space.
Will give away trips to space?
Branson called Virgin Galactic the spaceline for Earth and made good on a promise it had announced to unveil something very exciting after its flight: it revealed a partnership with fundraising company Omaze to award two seats in VSS Unity, and "with my Willy Wonka hat," he joked, a personal tour of Spaceport America. "And I promise a lot of chocolate at the factory," he added.
Although this raffle is free to enter, donating to Space for Humanity (a charity that makes spaceflight more accessible) will give those interested more opportunities. The giveaway ends on September 1 and the companies will reveal the winner on September 29. To participate, among other restrictions, you must be over 18 years of age and demonstrate that you have the Covid-19 vaccine.
It's worth noting that Virgin Galactic has already sold roughly 600 tickets at a price of around $ 250,000 each, but has yet to carry any of those passengers. The company has two more test missions planned this year before starting its commercial space tourism business in 2022.
The era of tourist trips to space begins
The weekend's mission has taken another step in the race for tourist space flights. Branson placed ahead of his rival Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon who plans to fly in the New Shepard rocket of his space company, Blue Origin, on July 20 in which Mark Bezos, the legend of aviation Wally, will also participate. Funk and the undisclosed winner of a $ 28 million auction.
It must be said that beyond fulfilling the billionaires' dream of flying into space, the reason that both Branson and Bezos are part of the crew is that they want to give a sign of confidence that their service is safe for them to anyone can pay for their seat.
This was especially important for Virgin Galactic which, in 2014, suffered a mid-flight disaster during a test that killed one pilot and seriously injured another. After that fact, Branson promised to travel in the future before the company began transporting clients.
Elon Musk, who by the way was present at the Virgin Galactic launch yesterday, also has his sights set on space tourism through SpaceX only his offering is different. He doesn't want a roundtrip flight, but rather to take passengers in a Crew Dragon capsule that will go into orbit for a few days at a price of roughly $ 55 million per seat.