Virgin Galactic Launches Passenger Service SpaceflightDecember 14, 2018, 10:51 AM HST (Updated December 14, 2018, 10:51 AM)
Virgin Galactic made history on Dec. 13, 2018, completing the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011. It’s also the first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial passenger service has reached space.
The SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, landed from her maiden spaceflight in Mojave, Calif., amid cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company.
According to the company’s announcement, the accomplishment has also been recognized by the NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which flew four space science and technology experiments on VSS Unity, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue-generating flight.
The flight started with a 60-second planned rocket motor burn, which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.
As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots with the phrase: “Unity, Welcome to Space.”
After a Mach 2.5 supersonic re-entry into the atmosphere, pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow guided the spaceship down to a smooth runway landing and an emotional homecoming welcome.
“Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally,” Branson said. “Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child, I have looked up to the skies with wonder. 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. 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.”
“What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries,”George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said” .Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine. New enterprises are being created which will become hugely valuable, while enabling humanity to better manage some of its greatest future challenges. Today was a remarkable achievement brought about by the skill, dedication and support of our shareholders, staff, customers, partners and many other stakeholders. We extend our congratulations and thanks to each and every one of them.”