Virgin Galactic Makes It to Space, Rich Average Joes to Follow

On Thursday, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane reached an altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 km). By the U.S. government’s rulebook, space starts at 50 miles (80.4 km), so that could mean Virgin pilots left our planet for the first time.
Earth view from onboard the VSS Unity 4 photos
Photo: Virgin Galactic
Earth seen from VSS UnityEarth seen from VSS UnityEarth seen from VSS Unity
During this flight, Virgin was planning to test new limits for altitude, air speed, loads, and thermal heating. An exit to space was to be a bonus, if possible and safe to make.

On December 13, Unity took to the sky under the wings of its carrier, VMS Eve, until it reached an altitude of 50,000 feet (15 km). After detaching from Eve, the plane ignited its rocket and kept using it for 60 seconds.

The burn was long and powerful enough to propel the craft to nearly three times the speed of sound at the said altitude. From the apogee, the ship began a supersonic re-entry in the unique feathering configuration and landed safely in Mojave, California.

The two pilots of the Unity, Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow, will be awarded by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) with the Commercial Astronaut Wings, an honor awarded to only two other humans in history, Mike Melvill and Brian Binnie, both Virgin pilots as well.

“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space,” said in a statement after the flight billionaire Richard Branson.

“This is a momentous day, and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”

Virgin calls the flight unique because it “is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011.” That statement is however somewhat inaccurate.

First off, there is no globally accepted definition for the boundary of space, but most agree that it should be the Karman line, which starts at 62 miles (100 km) above sea level. Only NASA and the U.S. use the 50-mile distance as a reference.

Then, VSS Unity did not launch per se as the space shuttles did, but was carried high up by an abnormal-looking plane, which took off from a regular cement runway.

And thirdly, the exit to space was extremely brief.

This will not stop however rich people from across the world to pay $250,000 for an extremely short trip to a debatable space. Virgin says about 600 have signed up already.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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