Published in Midwest Flyer Magazine August/September 2021 online issue
Virgin Galactic announced that VSS Unity successfully reached space on July 11, 2021, completing the company’s fourth rocket-powered spaceflight.
The flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training program at Spaceport America.
Following the flight, Michael Colglazier, Chief Executive Officer of Virgin Galactic, said: “Today is a landmark achievement for the company and a historic moment for the new commercial space industry. With each successful mission we are paving the way for the next generation of astronauts. I want to thank our talented team, including our pilots and crew, whose dedication and commitment made today possible. They are helping open the door for greater access to space – so it can be for the many and not just for the few.”
VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles, before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.
This seminal moment for Virgin Galactic and Sir Richard Branson was witnessed by audiences around the world. It gave a glimpse of the journey Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts can expect when the company launches commercial service following the completion of its test flight program. A recording of the livestream can be accessed on Virgin Galactic’s YouTube channel.
Sir Richard Branson said: “I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age. As Virgin’s founder, I was honored to test the incredible customer experience as part of this remarkable crew of mission specialists and now astronauts. I can’t wait to share this experience with aspiring astronauts around the world.”
Branson continued, “Our mission is to make space more accessible to all. In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true.”
The mission specialists in the cabin were Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Colin Bennett, Lead Flight Operations Engineer; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; and the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson. The VSS Unity pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while Kelly Latimer and CJ Sturckow piloted VMS Eve.
VMS Eve is a carrier mothership for Virgin Galactic and launch platform for SpaceShipTwo-based Virgin SpaceShips. VMS Eve was built by Scaled Composites for Virgin Galactic. The “VMS” prefix stands for “Virgin MotherShip.” The aircraft was named after Evette Branson, the mother of Richard Branson. The nose art on the aircraft is of a blonde woman holding a banner with the Virgin Galactic logo. The image is based on how Ms. Branson looked when she was younger and is called “Galactic Girl.”
Virgin Galactic Holdings, Inc. is a vertically integrated aerospace and space travel company, pioneering human spaceflight for private individuals and researchers, as well as a manufacturer of advanced air and space vehicles. For more information, go to https://www.virgingalactic.com/