Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and a crew of Virgin Galactic personnel landed safely in New Mexico on Sunday after launching to space aboard Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo spaceplane. Dubbed Unity 22, the mission was the vehicle's fourth test voyage to space and the first for Branson.
The 70-year-old billionaire boarded the VSS. Unity rocket jet SpaceShipTwo plane, VSS Unity, lifted off from the belly of Virgin Galactic's twin-fuselage WhiteKnight plane at 10:40 a.m. ET Sunday. Unity took out from New Mexico's Spaceport America and was transported to 50,000 feet by another jet, called Mothership Eve, before being released. The craft then fired its rockets and sped to a height of 50 miles.
Who Were The Crew Members Aboard The Virgin Galactic Flight?
According to The New York Times, Branson was one of six crew members on the inaugural Virgin Galactic trip. Pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci and three mission professionals joined the trip to assist the experience for future astronauts.
Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennet, lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of Virgin Galactic's government affairs and research operations, were among the experts.
The real beginning of space is a contentious issue. Futurism added it is even spawned a delightfully aggressive infographic from Blue Origin, claiming that the Kármán Line — a point around 62 miles in height — is the real start of outer space.
Branson stated the flight was "an adventure of a lifetime," and he's right during the Unity's descent. Whatever you think of the billionaires-going-to-space fad, it is quite cool that space tourism is finally taking off after decades of work and study (literally). This is unquestionably a big step forward towards a new era of space research and tourism.
The Ship Looked Perfect
Virgin Galactic President Mike Moses told reporters (via Space.com) that "everything looked perfect" in real time. However, a probable antenna issue caused a live video feed from inside the cabin to malfunction during important stages of the voyage.
Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor, has already experienced the thrill of an ascent on test flights and described the vista as "just phenomenal."
"Pictures don't do it justice," she told BBC News. "It's just so bright and beautiful. I saw the ocean, and halfway up the US and halfway down into Mexico. I saw the green of the land and the white snow-capped mountains."
CNN said VSS Unity is a suborbital spacecraft, which means it could not get fast enough to escape Earth's gravity. Instead, it will soar to more than 50 miles above the land at more than three times the speed of sound — nearly 2,300 miles per hour. Branson and his other passengers temporarily felt weightless towards the top of the flight route. It is similar to the feeling of weightlessness you get when you reach the top of a roller coaster hill, just before gravity drags your cart — or, in Branson's case, his space plane — back down to earth.
The engine switched off after approximately a minute, suspending the spaceship and its passengers in microgravity while SpaceShipTwo rolled onto its belly, providing passengers with expansive views of the Earth below and the inky black vacuum above.
To end the journey, SpaceShipTwo utilized a feathering device to lift its wings in the shape of a badminton shuttlecock, simulating the shape of a badminton shuttlecock as it began to descend down to Earth. It then glided back down to a runway landing by lowering its wings.
What Makes Virgin Galactic Different From What Spacex and Blue Origin Do?
Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' suborbital space tourism rocket, adopted a very different strategy. The company's New Shepard vehicle is a capsule and rocket system that launches vertically from a launch pad, taking passengers on a harrowing 11-minute ride to altitudes of over 60 miles before parachutes gently lower them.
On the other hand, Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic will be direct competitors once they commence commercial operations. They are both aiming for the ultra-rich thrill seekers who are willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a supersonic stomach punch and a few minutes of weightlessness.
Elon Musk, the other space entrepreneur, runs a completely different operation than Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic, which will be on display this month.
To begin with, SpaceX manufactures orbital rockets. Orbital rockets must provide enough thrust to reach a speed of at least 17,000 miles per hour, or orbital velocity. CNN said it allows a spacecraft to continue spinning around the Earth rather than being drawn back down by gravity. SpaceX uses this technology to launch satellites into orbit and to transport humans to and from the International Space Station.
Though Branson's other business, Virgin Orbit, has launched a rocket into orbit, and Bezos' Blue Origin aims to launch a rocket dubbed New Glenn into orbit in the future, neither company has created the same waves in the space sector as SpaceX.
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