On Sunday, July 11, Virgin Galactic, owned by British billionaire Richard Branson, successfully completed its first tourist space flight in less than an hour. Branson himself was on board. The flight was broadcast on the company's website and YouTube channel.
The VSS Unity suborbital rocket was launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Due to weather conditions, the flight was postponed for one and a half hours. The rocket made a suborbital flight, rising to an altitude of 80-90 kilometers. It took off into the sky along with the carrier aircraft, inside which there was the crew. When the rocket plane reached the required altitude, the carrier aircraft detached from it and, using its own engine, rose to an altitude of 80 kilometers.
In total, the entire flight lasted about an hour, and the crew was in a state of zero gravity for only 5-6 minutes. After reaching a given altitude, the carrier aircraft independently returned to Earth and landed at the cosmodrome. Branson looked pleased after landing and applauded.
Along with Branson, Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, Lead Operations Engineer Colin Bennett, and Vice President of Government Affairs Sirisha Bandla were on board. At the helm of Unity-22, there were astronauts Dave MacKay and Michael Masucci.
In his first post-flight speech, Branson said the flight was primarily due to the famous scientist Stephen Hawking, who the company considers a team member. The founder of Virgin Galactic also thanked all the team members, the New Mexico state (for allowing the project to take place on their territory), and his family.
Branson said once more that his mission is to make space travel accessible to everyone.
Virgin Galactic has been working on implementing the idea of tourist space flights for the past 16 years. Rapid progress was hampered by a lack of workers, the death of a pilot during a test in 2014, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to Branson's company, other companies are already planning commercial space flights. For example, Blue Origin's New Shepard spacecraft will carry out its first suborbital space flight on July 20, 2021. The founder of the company Jeff Bezos, his brother Mark, 82-year-old pilot Wally Funk, and an unknown benefactor, who bought a ticket at an auction for $28 million, will also fly to space.