Virgin Galactic launched fossilized human remains to space

Galactic 03 flew the fossilized remains as "a tribute to the contribution of all human ancestors and ancient human relatives."
Chris Young
VSS Unity during the Galactic 03 spaceflight.
VSS Unity during the Galactic 03 spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic / X 

Virgin Galactic completed its third commercial suborbital spaceflight on September 8.

Aside from the three private astronauts aboard the company's spaceplane, Virgin Galactic also launched fossilized remains of ancient humans to suborbital space.

"Fossils from Homo naledi and Australopithecus sediba become the oldest astronauts to travel to space, flying on Virgin Galactic's spaceship VSS Unity," a press statement from the University of the Witwatersrand in South Africa, which collaborated with Virgin Galactic on the initiative, explained.

Virgin Galactic's third commercial spaceflight

Virgin Galactic did not reveal the names of the three private astronauts aboard its VSS Unity spaceplane this time, and it did not share live footage of the "Galactic 03" flight either.

VSS Unity took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 10:34 a.m. ET. Once it reached a high enough altitude, Unity separated from its carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, and went on to reach a peak altitude of 88.6 kilometers. Roughly an hour after take-off, Unity touched down for a runway landing.

Galactic 03 was commanded by Nicola Pecile with Michael Masucci as pilot, and Beth Moses, the company's chief astronaut instructor, flew with the private astronauts in Unity's cabin.

Virgin Galactic did identify the astronauts after landing. They are real estate entrepreneur Ken Baxter, entrepreneur and adventurer Timothy Nash, and British engineer Adrian Reynard.

According to SpaceNews, Baxter claims to have purchased his ticket from Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson back in 2004. Virgin Galactic reportedly has a massive backlog of bookings for upcoming space tourism flights.

Ancient human remains go to space

Joining the three private astronauts were the fossilized remains of two ancient humans.

According to the Witwatersrand University statement, that makes Galactic 03 a historic flight as it is the first to have flown ancient humans to space.

The fossilized remains were sent up on Galactic 03 "as a tribute to the contribution of all human ancestors and ancient human relatives for their part in making the ultimate gesture of human exploration and technological advancement possible – space flight."

One of the fossils is a two-million-year-old South African fossil hominin species Australopithecus sediba and the other is a 250,000-year-old hominin species Homo naledi. The first is a fossilized clavicle and the second is a fossilized thumb bone.

Matthew Sathekge, CEO of the Cradle of Humankind World Heritage Site, which was involved in the initiative, explained in the statement: "We sincerely hope it brings further awareness of the importance of our country and the African continent to understanding the journey of humankind that has led to this historic moment where commercial spaceflight is possible."

Both fossils were placed in a carbon fiber container prior to the spaceflight and were carried by astronaut Timothy Nash, who is a South African-born, South African and British citizen. Nash is also a conservationist and is closely involved with human origins research in Africa.

Galactic 03 was Virgin Galactic's third commercial spaceflight and its eighth spaceflight overall, including test flights. Virgin Galactic charges between $250,000 and $450,000 per seat, and its flights allow passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness before they descend and make their way back down for a runway landing.

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