Virgin Galactic finally launches first space tourist flight

Passenger Jon Goodwin had feared he would not be able to fly to suborbital space due to his Parkinson's disease diagnosis.
Chris Young
VSS Unity in suborbital space.
VSS Unity in suborbital space.

Virgin Galactic / YouTube 

Virgin Galactic just launched its second commercial spaceflight, its first full-blown space tourism flight.

The company's seventh overall spaceflight, Galactic 02, sent ticket prize-winning mother and daughter Keisha Schahaff, Anastatia Mayers, and 80-year-old British former Olympian Jon Goodwin to the edge of space.

The company's VSS Unity spaceplane took off attached to its carrier aircraft VMS Eve, from Spaceport America, New Mexico, at around 10:30 ET (14:30 GMT) today, August 10.

Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight in June carried a crew of Italian Air Force personnel as part of a science and training mission. You can watch the launch live stream in the embedded video below.

Virgin Galactic's first full space tourism flight

Virgin Galactic's spaceplane, VSS Unity, detached from its carrier jet VMS Eve shortly after takeoff, and it then powered up its engine to fly the crew to suborbital space, reaching a maximum altitude of roughly 55 miles (88 kilometers).

Unity firing its engines has become a familiar sight, though it is, in fact, the first time Virgin Galactic has flown a paying space tourist — Jon Goodwin — on its spaceplane.

Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Anastatia Mayers won the tickets after entering their names into a prize draw during a Virgin Atlantic airliner flight from Antigua to Scotland, where Mayers attends Aberdeen University. Goodwin, from Newcastle-under-Lyme, is the second person with Parkinson's disease to ever fly to space.

They all flew alongside Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses.

Prior to today's space tourism flight, Virgin Galactic had also conducted several test flights, including the one that flew Virgin Group founder Sir Richard Branson to suborbital space.

According to a recent report by The Guardian, Virgin Galactic has a backlog of bookings for upcoming space tourism flights, and it is thought to have charged between $250,000 and $450,000 per seat.

Goodwin paid $250,000 for his seat back in 2005, and he had feared his diagnosis would mean he wouldn't be able to fly to space. Before today's spaceflight, he said he wanted to show that Parkinson's disease does not define him.

Goodwin is the first on a list of 800 individuals who have bought tickets for a ride on Virgin Galactic's Unity rocket. Some, including Goodwin, have been waiting for over a decade to fly to space.

Anastatia Mayers, meanwhile, became the second youngest person to fly to space. She and her mother become the first people from Antigua to go to space.

A giant leap for space tourism

Virgin Galactic flights allow passengers to experience a few minutes of weightlessness before they descend and make their way back down for a runway landing.

The entire experience, including the runway liftoff, Unity release and flight, and landing, lasts roughly an hour.

Virgin Galactic's main competitor, Blue Origin, flies tourists to suborbital space using a vertical liftoff rocket called New Shepard.

New Shepard is grounded following an anomaly during an uncrewed science mission last year. However, Blue Origin CEO Bob Smith recently said the company is only a "few weeks" away from launching Blue Shepard again.

Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin both state that one of their main goals is to allow more people to experience the transformative Overview Effect, which describes the positive psychological impact astronauts experience when viewing Earth from space.

This was a live article, and it was updated as new information emerged.

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