Science & Technology

Virgin Galactic makes its 1st commercial flight to edge of space

Miami, Jun 29 (EFE).- Virgin Galactic flew six people to the edge of space Thursday, the first commercial flight of the space tourism venture founded two decades ago by British billionaire Richard Branson.

Around 8:30 am (1430 GMT), carrier aircraft VMS Eve took off from Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, with Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered space plane attached.

On reaching an altitude of nearly 13 km (40,000 ft), the VMS Eve released the VSS Unity, which fired its rocket engine for roughly 60 seconds and embarked on a vertical climb to around 85 km (53 mi) above sea level.

In the absence of a clear boundary between the atmosphere and space, varying definitions have been proposed.

The Federation Aeronautique Internationale says that space begins at an altitude of 100 km (62 mi), while the United States government locates the boundary at 80 km (50 mi).

The six occupants experienced several minutes of weightlessness before the VSS Unity descended and made a runway landing at the spaceport, 90 minutes after the start of the suborbital mission.

At the controls were two Virgin Galactic employees: former US Air Force test pilot Mike Masucci and Italian air force veteran Nicole Pecile.

Also aboard was Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor Colin Bennett, who accompanied Branson on the Unity’s 2021 mission.

Two serving Italian air force officers, Col. Walter Villadei and Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, a physician who trained as a crew surgeon for Russian cosmonauts, and Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer with Italy’s National Research Council, made up the rest of the crew.

Despite the tourism orientation of Virgin Galactic, the focus of the inaugural commercial flight was research, as the Italian trio carried out 13 experiments, including measurements of how materials respond in a microgravity environment.

The Italian government signed a contract with Virgin Galactic in 2019.

Branson’s company began selling tickets for flights to space more than a decade ago. Around 800 would-be spacefarers have shelled out between $250,000 and $450,000 to reserve seats on the VSS Unity.

Rival SpaceX, led by Tesla CEO, has transported paying passengers into orbit and to the International Space Station aboard its Crew Dragon craft.



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