Virgin Galactic Just Went to Space for the First Time
Today will go down as historic for space travel, signifying a monumental way humans travel for leisure.
"For the first time in history, a crewed spaceship built to carry private, paying passengers reached space," Virgin Galactic Chairman Richard Branson tweeted.
Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity rocket reached suborbital space for the first time during a manned test flight Thursday. While both SpaceX and Blue Origin are private companies with a number of successes in space travel, as Branson said, this is the first time a crewed rocket built to carry paying passengers made it past the Earth's atmosphere.
The Unity took off from the Mojave Desert with support of its larger White Night "Mothership" aircraft.
Thousands of feet above the ground, Unity was dropped and its rocket ignited, powering the spacecraft to an altitude of 271,268 feet, or 51.4 miles above Earth.
Pictures show the rocket jetting through the outer-atmosphere:
A video shows Unity rocketing at suborbital altitude with Earth on one side -- and makes you realize how tiny we all are:
What makes the day even more monumental for Virgin Atlantic, which has been trying to get to space since 2004, is that its first spaceship broke apart during a test flight in 2014, killing the two crew members aboard. A separate explosion in 2007 killed three others during development.
Do note that some define reaching space once people are 62 miles from the earth's surface. The Unity also only hit suborbital altitudes as it's not a vehicle built for full orbit like the International Space Station.
In November, Branson said that Virgin would make it to space before Christmas, and in a recent podcast with TPG's Brian Kelly, the founder said that he will travel into space in 2019. Once more testing is complete, Virgin will start flying the 600+ people who prepaid for flights to space — which apparently includes Tom Hanks and Ashton Kutcher. It's unclear when that will be.
Virgin is selling trips to space for $250,000 per person, and if you have a large stash of Virgin miles, you can redeem them toward 10% off a flight on Unity. If you do decide to shell out a quarter of a million dollars for a seat, don't expect to stay up there long, as your time in space only allows for a few minutes of weightlessness.
Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin is steadily working toward manned space flights, and SpaceX plans to take paying customers to the moon in 2023.