(Washington) The first space tourists carried by the American company Virgin Galactic reached space on Thursday, announced the company founded by billionaire Richard Branson, which is thus fulfilling a promise made two decades ago.
The three passengers – Jon Goodwin, 80, Keisha Schahaff, 46, and his daughter Anastatia Mayers, 18 – spent a few minutes in space, from where they were able to admire the curvature of the Earth and briefly float in weightlessness, according to the company’s video broadcast.
They were accompanied in the VSS Unity ship by a Virgin Galactic employee responsible for supervising them, and two pilots.
This mission, named Galactic 02, is the company’s second commercial flight, after a first carried out at the end of June.
This one had transported senior Italian Air Force officers who had carried out several experiments on board, and not civilians making the trip purely for pleasure.
Before that, the company had carried out several test flights, including one with Richard Branson himself, in July 2021. In total, Thursday is the seventh time that the spacecraft has gone into space.
A huge carrier plane first took off from a conventional runway in New Mexico, then after a period of ascent dropped the craft, which looks like a large private jet.
It then turned on its engine and accelerated vertically until it exceeded 80 km altitude – the limit marking the beginning of space according to the American army. The spacecraft reached 88 km altitude at its peak, a commentator announced during the live video.
He then quickly began his descent while gliding, before landing on the same runway.
Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Anastatia Mayers are both from Antigua and Barbuda in the Caribbean, and won their ticket by participating in a fundraiser organized by Virgin Galactic.
The happy news had been announced to Keisha Schahaff by Richard Branson in person, who had surprised her by going to her house to give her her astronaut suit.
He was back in Antigua and Barbuda on Thursday to watch the flight alongside his family, he said on social media, posting a photo of him and Keisha Schahaff’s mother.
The third passenger, Briton Jon Goodwin, participated in the Olympic Games in 1972. Diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014, he will be the second person with this disease to go into space. At 80, however, he will not be the oldest – this record is held by William Shatner, at 90.
Fewer than 700 people have been to space so far, according to Virgin Galactic, which now promises one spaceflight per month.
Around 800 customers bought their ticket – initially priced between $200,000 and $250,000 per passenger, later raised to $450,000.
Virgin Galactic’s space program has been years behind schedule, in part due to an accident in 2014 that killed a pilot.
Virgin Galactic competes with billionaire Jeff Bezos’ company Blue Origin, which also offers short suborbital flights, and has already sent 31 people into space.
But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, his rocket has been grounded. Blue Origin promised in March to resume spaceflight “soon”.