Sunday, July 11, The Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity rocket aircraft took off to space with a very special passenger on board. During the flight, the ship reached an altitude of 88 kilometers, hitting the zone where Earth’s atmosphere and outer space exist in a balance, allowing the visitors to experience zero gravity and an amazing view of our planet from way up high. The entire flight was broadcast on YouTube, so anyone could watch it freely.
After reaching the maximum altitude, the rocket plane’s engine turned off, and the passengers were free to float in zero-G while admiring the slight curvature of the planet Earth through the windows. Sadly, a few minutes of fun is all you get, but the clients of Virgin Galactic are lined up and ready to pay, as a couple of weeks ago, the company received official permission for commercial flights.
The first VSS Enterprise rocket aircraft made its virgin flight back in 2013 but crashed in 2014. It was later replaced by VSS Unity, which has already completed three manned flights. And now it’s four. On the evening of July 11, 2021, the ship full of passengers took off from New Mexico and went straight up, piercing the sky. In addition to two pilots on board, there were four company employees, including its founder, Richard Branson. The entire flight lasted 15 minutes, which does not seem all that impressive at first, but it’s a big step forward.
Virgin Galactic is now planning two more VSS Unity test flights, which will be attended by company employees and researchers from the Italian Air Force. Only then will the owners of more than 600 purchased flight tickets ($250k each) be able to board the plane and become the first civilians to experience sub-orbital fun.
Speaking of space tourism, Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Musk’s SpaceX are not the only big boys on the block. They actually have a huge competitor in the face of Jeff Bezos and his Blue Origin company, who’s scheduled to launch a bunch of tourists on the New Shepard single-stage return system during its first suborbital flight on July 20. Yes, that’s next week. There’s no ticket price set for New Shepard yet, but someone was so eager to fly to space with Bezos that they paid $28 million to win the auction for that +1 passenger. Let’s hope nothing goes wrong!
So what’s the point of this space race? Just a few billionaires flexing at the poor how rich they are? Nope, there’s one thing these commercial flights can do that only a select few have been able to provide — invaluable research. It may seem like space unimportant, or at least that we should first deal with our problems on Earth before we colonize other planets. Who knows, maybe people are right to think that. But ultimately, this space race will get us a few steps closer to becoming an interplanetary or even intergalactic society. To infinity and beyond!