Virgin Galactic has made history after its Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, returned safely from its maiden spaceflight yesterday.
The successful flight to the edge of the Earth's atmosphere was the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011.
It is also the first time a vehicle designed for commercial passenger service has traveled to space. The test flight launched from the Mojave Air & Space Port in California at 7:11 am PT.
VSS Unity detached from the mothership just after 8:00 am PT, lighting its rocket engine and powering upwards.
Virgin to fly space tourists early 2019
Today marks the fourth test flight VSS Unity. Today's test was the closets company has come to a flight that will one day take passengers.
Virgin believes that its maiden voyage with space tourists abroad could happen in the first 6 months of 2019. That mission will mark the end of a long road for the company that was founded back in 2004.
Branson's big dream comes to fruition
“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 in a statement.
"We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled."
"It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration, and anticipation for what is yet to come. Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue-generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good."
"We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving thousands of private astronauts an experience which provides a new, planetary perspective to our relationship with the Earth and the cosmos,” Branson concluded.
“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.”
The flight has been recognized by the FAA and both pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow will be awarded with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings, at a ceremony in Washington DC, early next year. CJ, a former Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.
Branson and the company are buoyed by the success of yesterday's flight but are still scrambling for cash after Branson rejected a pending $1 Billion investment from Saudi Arabia after learning about the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October.