VSS Unity conducts test flight that nearly reaches space
Virgin Galactic’s program designed to kick off space tourism has just reached another milestone with a flight that almost reached the edge of space.
The VSS Unity’s flight on Thursday, Dec. 13 came close to punching through what is considered to be the start of “space.” The Karman Line is the region of the atmosphere considered to be the edge of “space.” at an altitude of 62 miles (100 km). The duo on board came achingly close to surpassing that threshold. However, the company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson, offered what could be a rebuttal on this established border when he tweeted: Space is Virgin territory. Watching VSS Unity reach space was one of the proudest moments of my life
The mission’s success was clear from a tweet posted by Branson: I could not be more proud of our teams, who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration
Reaching an altitude of 51 miles (82.68 km), the duo on board was able to experience a few moments of weightlessness.
The mission was piloted by Mark “Forger” Stucky and C.J Sturckow (as noted on NASASpaceFlight, Sturckow is no stranger to space having traveled there four times on board NASA’s retired fleet of shuttles). Sturckow has logged some 51 days on orbit as a member of the crews of STS-88, STS-105, STS-117 and STS-128.
“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, Branson said via a company-issued release. “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.”
VSS Unity was carried aloft beneath the odd-looking White Knight Two aircraft at 7:11 PT (15:11 GMT) from California’s Mojave Air and Space Port. On top of its history-making flight it also carried four NASA-funded technology experiments on board. As of this writing, NASA is unable to send astronauts on its own to sub-orbit let alone to orbit. The space agency has lacked that capability for more than seven years.
“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.”
Video courtesy: The Sun
Jason Rhian spent several years honing his skills with internships at NASA, the National Space Society and other organizations. He has provided content for outlets such as: Aviation Week & Space Technology, Space.com, The Mars Society and Universe Today.