Virgin Galactic rockets its first tourist passengers into space

Sierra County, New Mexico - Virgin Galactic launched its first tourist passengers into the weightlessness of space Thursday, the culmination of a nearly two-decade commercial pursuit, the company said.

Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first tourist passengers into space on Thursday.
Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first tourist passengers into space on Thursday.  © IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

The three passengers - Jon Goodwin, Keisha Schahaff, and her teenage daughter Anastatia Mayers - floated gravity-free through the Virgin spacecraft about 45 minutes after taking off.

"They are officially astronauts. Welcome to space," Virgin Galactic announcer Sirisha Bandla said as the spacecraft pushed above 50 miles in altitude, the level marking the edge of space where the pull of gravity is minimal.

Live video showed the three admiring views of the Earth below and further into space through the windows.

Virgin Galactic's spaceflights involve a giant, twin-fuselage carrier aircraft that takes off from a runway, gains altitude, then drops a rocket-powered spaceplane that soars into space.

After a few minutes in space, the craft began descending and safely landed in New Mexico at the same runway they took off from.

Thursday's long-awaited flight was the culmination of a nearly two-decade-old promise by British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic's founder, to bring tourists into space, giving them the chance to experience weightlessness and see the Earth.

This mission, named Galactic 02, is the company's second commercial flight.

Virgin Galactic launches second commercial flight

The first, at the end of June, carried a group of senior Italian Air Force officers who had carried out several experiments on board rather than civilians making the trip purely for pleasure.

Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic has sold around 800 tickets for seats on future commercial flights - 600 between 2005 and 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000 and 200 since then for $450,000 each.

Virgin Galactic competes in the "suborbital" space tourism sector with billionaire Jeff Bezos's company Blue Origin, which has already sent 31 people into space using a vertical lift-off rocket.

But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, Blue Origin's rocket has been grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflight soon.

Cover photo: IMAGO / ZUMA Wire

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