Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rocketed a handful of tourists, including a former British Olympian and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean, to the edge of space on Thursday.
The feat marks Branson’s first customer flight — after years of delays– and it means Virgin Galactic can now start offering monthly rides, joining Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism business.
“That was by far the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life,” passenger Jon Goodwin told the crowd that awaited the space plane’s return to Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.
Goodwin. an 89-year-old athlete who competed in canoeing in the 1972 Olympics, was among the first to buy a ticket in 2005.
At the time, ticket prices were $200,000. Now the cost has rocketed up to $450,000.
Godwin, who has Parkinson’s disease, was joined on the flight by sweepstakes winner Keisha Schahaff, 46, a health coach from Antigua, and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, 18, a student at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen.
The mother-daughter duo high-fived and pumped their fists as the spaceport crowd cheered their return.
“A childhood dream has come true,” Schahaff said. Her daughter added: “I have no words. The only thought I had the whole time was ‘Wow!’”
According to the Associated Press, with Virgin Galactic’s astronaut trainer and one of the two pilots, the flight marked the first time women outnumbered men on a spaceflight, four to two.
The rocket ship’s portion of the flight lasted about 15 minutes and it reached 55 miles high. The flight was Virgin Galactic’s seventh trip to space since 2018, but the first with a ticket-holder.
In 2021, Branson, the company’s founder, jumped on board for the first full-size crew ride.
Italian military and government researchers took flight in June on the first commercial flight. About 800 people are currently on Virgin Galactic’s waiting list, the company said.
After Thursday’s trip, Branson tweeted: “Today we flew three incredible private passengers to space: Keisha Schahaff, Anastatia Mayers and Jon Goodwin. Congratulations @VirginGalactic commercial astronauts 011, 012 and 013 – welcome to the club!”
Several months ago, Branson held a virtual lottery to establish the company’s first 50 customers — called the Founding Astronauts. Virgin Galactic said the group agreed Goodwin would go first, given his age and his Parkinson’s disease.
Like Virgin Galactic, Bezos’ Blue Origin flies to the edge of space from West Texas. The rocket ship has launched 31 people so far but flights are on hold following a crash last fall.
Musk’s SpaceX is the only private company flying customers all the way to orbit for a much heftier price– tens of millions of dollars per seat. SpaceX’s biggest customer, NASA, relies on the spaceship to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station since 2020.
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