“If you’re willing to spend $250,000 for a quick trip to space, that option is getting closer to reality,” reports CNN.
VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane, climbed to a record altitude of nearly 56 miles during a test flight on Friday, marking the second time Richard Branson’s startup has reached space. Two pilots, and for the first time, an additional crew member, were on board. Beth Moses, Galactic’s chief astronaut trainer and an aerospace engineer, rode along with the pilots. The trip allowed her to run safety checks and get a first look at what Galactic’s customers could one day experience. Moses has logged hundreds of hours on zero gravity aircrafts, and she described the G Forces aboard the supersonic plane as “mildly wild.” Some moments were intense, she told CNN Business, but it was never uncomfortable. “I was riveted and I think our customers will be as well.”
Unity took off from a runway in California’s Mojave Desert just after 8 am PT and cruised to about 45,000 feet attached to its mothership before it broke away and fired its rocket motor. The plane then swooped into the upper reaches of the atmosphere, 295,000 feet high, at supersonic speeds. It’s top speed was Mach 3. At the peak of its flight path, Unity experienced a few minutes of weightlessness and looked out into the black skies of the cosmos. Moses said she was able to leave her seat and take in the view. “The Earth was beautiful — super sharp, super clear,” she said, “with a gorgeous view of the Pacific mountains.”
America’s Federal Aviation Administration says they’ll now award commercial astronaut wings to all three members of the crew, and CNN reports that this second successful test flight suggests Galactic “could be on track” to start flying tourists into space this year.
“About 600 people have reserved tickets, priced between $200,000 and $250,000, to fly with Galactic. And the company says it wants to eventually lower prices to broaden its customer base.”
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