Aerospace & Defence

Virgin Galactic takes its first tourists to the edge of space!

11th August 2023
Harry Fowle

Virgin Galactic has successfully launched its inaugural space tourism flight, carrying its first group of passengers to the edge of space.

Among the passengers on board the VSS Unity were Jon Goodwin, a former Olympian from Newcastle who competed in canoeing during the 1972 Munich Games, as well as Keisha Schahaff, 46, and her 18-year-old daughter Anastatia Mayers, a student at the University of Aberdeen.

The VSS Unity transported its passengers approximately 55 miles (88km) above Earth, providing them with an experience of zero gravity during the one-hour flight duration. Mr. Goodwin later described the experience as "completely surreal" and deemed it "the most exciting day of my life." He further marvelled at the clarity of Earth from space, describing it as a profoundly moving sight and stated that the journey "exceeded my wildest dreams."

"The most impressive thing was looking at Earth from space, the pure clarity was very moving," he said. "It was far more dramatic than I imagined it would be, the pure acceleration was completely surreal."

Despite facing Parkinson's disease, Mr. Goodwin aimed to demonstrate that such an illness shouldn't deter individuals from pursuing extraordinary endeavours. He expressed hope that his journey would bring about positive outcomes.

Notably, Mr. Goodwin acquired his ticket for $200,000 back in 2005, becoming the fourth person to do so. He praised Virgin Galactic for accommodating his health condition and commended their approach to inclusivity.

"When I signed up, I didn't have Parkinson's. When, nine years ago, I contracted the disease I thought that's the end of me going into space," he said. "They’ve done various health checks but they never stopped me doing what I wanted to do - they need an enormous amount of credit for that."

Anastatia Mayers, the University of Aberdeen student, chose to take a university pin into space as a symbol of the institution's support. She noted that the experience had deepened her connection to Earth and fueled her motivation for exploration.

Mother and daughter, Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, originally from Antigua and Barbuda, secured their places through a prize draw. Their journey marked the first time a mother and daughter duo from the Caribbean had ventured into space.

Schahaff shared her exhilaration: "I'm still up there, I'm not here yet, and it's just amazing that you can land so smoothly on the runway coming back from space. It was so comfortable, it was really the best ride ever, and I would love to do this again."

The flight was piloted by CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, alongside astronaut instructor Beth Moses. The VSS Unity separated from its carrier plane, the VMS Eve, at an altitude of around 44,500 feet and ignited its rocket to propel itself upward for about a minute. Footage from inside the cabin captured the passengers experiencing weightlessness, while external cameras showcased the curvature of the Earth.

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity touched down at Spaceport America, greeted by applause from spectators. The success marked the company's seventh spaceflight since 2018, yet this venture was the first to carry tourists.

With this accomplishment, Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson, joined the ranks of space tourism providers like Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, ushering in a new era of commercial space travel.

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