VIRGIN GALACTIC have taken a major step towards realising Richard Branson’s ‘dream’ to bring space travel to the masses.
In Mojave, California in the United States SpaceShipTwo/VSS Unity landed from its maiden spaceflight as Richard Branson was present to congratulate the Virgin Galactic team and The Spaceship Company.
The historic day saw the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since 2011.
However, more importantly it saw the very first time in history a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger purposes, has completed the journey and return to space.
The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced yesterday that pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow will be presented FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a celebratory event in Washington DC next year.
The NASA Flight Opportunities Program, which was able to complete four experimental tests during the mission, making this Virgin Galactic’s first revenue generating flight.
A large crowd of staff and their families along with the select media outlets witnessed the launch of the VSS Unity which reached speeds of ‘almost three times the speed of sound’.
Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the spaceships safe entry into space with the message to the two astronaut pilots: “Unity, Welcome to Space”.
Astronauts Forger and CJ were able to guide the spaceship down to a smooth landing and an emotional welcome in California.
Richard Branson has said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. 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.”
George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company, added: “What we witnessed today is more compelling evidence that commercial space is set to become one of the twenty-first century’s defining industries.
“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.”