• Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first private astronaut spaceflight, Galactic 02, after initial delays in refurbishing its carrier aircraft.
  • This flight included several historic milestones, such as the first mother-daughter duo in space and the third oldest person to go to space.
  • With this achievement, Virgin Galactic can now offer monthly flights and is joining the ranks of Blue Origin and SpaceX in the space tourism industry.

On Thursday, Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first private astronaut spaceflight, Galactic 02, from Spaceport America in New Mexico. This flight had previous missions as it was the first private customer flight with three civilians, a mission specialist, and pilots onboard. Among the three civilians taken on were the first Olympian and Caribbean astronauts to space.

A delayed launch

While Virgin Galactic has successfully completed its 'Galactic 02' mission, the first private customer flight was delayed for years. The company had initially targeted to begin private customer flights in 2022, but due to delays in work refurbishing its carrier aircraft, it was pushed to 2023.

Astronaut 011 Jon Goodwin waves for the camera while weightless inside the cabin of VSS Unity.
Photo: Virgin Galactic

Ultimately, VSS Unity, the sub-orbital spacecraft and subject of the mission, took to the skies at 08:40 local time. Over 150,000 viewers watched a live stream on Virgin Galactic's YouTube channel alone, although this didn't appear to show the takeoff itself.

The VSS Unity was carried to its launch altitude by a mothership named VMS Eve, after Virgin founder Sir Richard Branson's mother. It was released from the mothership at 09:15 local time and reached Mach 3 within a minute. Unity safely touched down at 09:30 local time at Spaceport America in New Mexico, just over 15 minutes after its release.

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The first flight of its kind

While the VSS Unity has operated seven missions before, this particular flight is its first one with a total ticket holder. In 2021, the company's founder Branson was on board for the first full-size crew.

Then on June 29th, 2023, the company launched Galactic 01, which was the first commercial flight, carrying four passengers, all of which were from Italy, including two members of the Italian Air Force, an engineer from the National Research Council of Italy, and a Virgin Galactic astronaut. During the flight, the crew of Galactic 01 conducted 13 experiments.

Thursday's flight included many achievements, including the first mother-daughter duo in space and the third oldest person to go to space, among others. The three civilian astronauts included 80-year-old Jon Goodwin, who competed in the 1972 Munich Games as a canoeist, and Keisha Schahaff and Anastasia Mayers, a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean. They won their seats in a drawing raising funds for the nonprofit Space for Humanity.

VSS Unity's rocket motor powers the Galactic 02 through the atmosphere and into space.
Photo: Virgin Galactic

Now with the success of Galactic 02, commercial space tourism is a reality for Virgin Galactic as it can begin offering monthly flights. Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, stated:

"Today, Virgin Galactic took another historic leap forward by flying our first private astronaut mission and demonstrating how our spaceflights will broaden access to space. Jon, Keisha, and Ana each embody our fundamental belief that space is for everyone, and we are proud that today's flight has inspired people and communities around the world. This is just the beginning, as we plan to continue flying monthly spaceflights while also developing our Delta Class production spaceships to scale our business."

Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic now joined Jeff Bezoz's Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX in the space tourism business. According to the company, there are 800 people on Virgin Galactic's waiting list.

What are your thoughts on the future of space tourism? Let us know your opinions in the comments.