Virgin Galactic has reached another milestone in their fight test program. The VSS Unity spacecraft carried a third crew member on board, in its fifth rocket-powered test flight. It was the second time that the spacecraft reached space.
Virgin Galactic is developing the VSS Unity space flight system. Their goal is to make private spaceflight obtainable for people with the means to pay for it. The Unity system consists of WhiteKnightTwo, the custom carrier aircraft, and the spaceship itself, SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is the first private, passenger-carrying spaceship in the world.
The flight took place on February 22nd, and on this flight, VSS Unity flew higher and faster than ever before. The spacecraft reached a speed of Mach 3.04 (3,754 kmh/2332 mph), and reached an altitude of 89,918 meters, (295,007 ft.)
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Chief Pilot Dave Mackay.
“Beth, Sooch and I just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced.”
VSS Unity carried three people during this flight. Onboard were Chief Pilot Dave Mackay, co-pilot Michael “Sooch” Masucci, and Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s Chief Astronaut Instructor. The three are the 569th, 570th, and 571st people in space. Moses was also the first woman to fly in a commercial space vehicle.
The three people in the crew spent several weightless minutes aboard the spacecraft, as the pilots prepared for the Mach 2.7 re-entry. Moses was aboard to conduct a live evaluation of the spacecraft’s cabin dynamics. She floated free in the cabin in order to validate cabin sensor readings taken during previous flights.
The flight featured several “firsts” mostly related to commercial spaceflight. The flight was:
- the first time that a non-pilot flew on board a commercial spaceship to space.
- the first time that a crew member floated freely without restraints in weightlessness in space onboard a commercial spaceship.
- the first time that three people flew to space on a commercial spaceship.
- the first Scottish-born astronaut, Dave Mackay.
“Beth, Sooch and I just enjoyed a pretty amazing flight which was beyond anything any of us has ever experienced,” said Chief Pilot Dave Mackay. “It was thrilling yet smooth and nicely controlled throughout with a view at the top, of the Earth from space, which exceeded all our expectations. I am incredibly proud of my crew and of the amazing teams at Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company for providing a vehicle and an operation which means we can fly confidently and safely. For the three of us today this was the fulfillment of lifelong ambitions, but paradoxically is also just the beginning of an adventure which we can’t wait to share with thousands of others.”
Sir Richard Branson, the man behind Virgin Galactic, had this to say: “Flying the same vehicle safely to space and back twice in a little over two months, while at the same time expanding the flight envelope, is testament to the unique capability we have built up within the Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company organizations.” He added, “The next few months promise to be the most thrilling yet.”
Virgin Galactic sees themselves as the democratizer of space. Their vision is to be a positive force for humanity’s future, by making space accessible to more scientists, entrepreneurs, and people with the means to pay for the trip.
They rally themselves around a Stephen Hawking quote: “We are entering a new space age and I hope this will create a new unity. Space exploration has already been a great unifier, we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth.”
It’s hard to argue with Hawking on this. The USA and the USSR are at each other’s throats politically, militarily, and economically. But they don’t seem to have any problem cooperating when it comes to space. Maybe in space, there’s something in the water that makes antipathy evaporate into thin air, if you don’t mind the atrocious metaphor.
The future is yet to be determined, but there are serious efforts to expand humanity’s presence in space, and a good chunk of that effort comes from private space companies like Virgin Galactic.
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s Founder, has this quote up on the Virgin Galactic website: “We are at the vanguard of a new industry determined to pioneer twenty-first century spacecraft, which will open space to everybody — and change the world for good.”
You can’t deny that industry is pioneering new spacecraft for this century. The evidence is all around us. As for changing the world for good?
That would be nice, wouldn’t it?