The space tourism company of British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic finally launched its first space tourists to the edge of the cosmos on August 10. The first flight of private space tourists, known as Galactic 02, took off shortly after 11am ET from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The company’s reusable rocket-powered space plane VSS Unity successfully landed after a brief flight that gave passengers a few minutes of weightlessness. The vehicle reached more than 50 miles (80 kilometers) above Earth’s surface – at an altitude the US government considers the edge of outer space. It reached supersonic speeds as it moved upward. At the peak of its flight, the space plane spent a few minutes in weightlessness, as it entered free fall and returned to the spaceport for a runway landing at 9:30 a.m. MT. The journey lasted an hour.
On board the flight were an 80-year-old British former Olympian, who has Parkinson’s disease; Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, a mother-daughter pair from the Caribbean who won their seats through a charity drawing; two pilots, and Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor who trained the crew before the flight. The mission also marked the most women flown in a single mission to space.
The suborbital joyride came after nearly two decades of development work. The flight will now allow the company to begin clearing a backlog of about 800 ticket holders who are waiting for space rides.