Virgin Galactic takes first tourists to edge of space | Science & Tech News

Virgin Galactic has taken its first tourists to the edge of space.

The company, founded by Sir Richard Branson, took an 80-year-old former Olympian and a mother and daughter about 55 miles (88km) above Earth where the passengers experienced zero gravity during the flight which lasted just more than an hour.

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Space tourists, from left, Anastatia Mayers, Jon Goodwin and Keisha Schahaff pose for photos before boarding their Virgin Galactic flight at Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, N.M., Thursday, Aug. 10, 2023. Virgin Galactic is taking its first space tourists on a long-delayed rocket ship ride.  (AP Photo/Andr..s Leighton)
(L-R) Anastatia Mayers, Jon Goodwin and Keisha Schahaff pictured boarding their Virgin Galactic flight. Pic: AP

Jon Goodwin, from Newcastle, had competed in canoeing at the 1972 Games in Munich, while Keisha Schahaff, 46, and her 18-year-old daughter Anastatia Mayers, an Aberdeen University student, became the first astronauts from the Caribbean.

Pilots CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, alongside astronaut instructor Beth Moses, joined the tourists on the VSS Unity, which took off around 8.30am local time (3.30pm UK time) at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The VSS Unity separated from its carrier plane, the VMS Eve, at 9.17am (4.17pm UK time), at an altitude of about 44,500ft, and ignited its rocket to fire upwards for around a minute.

Just two minutes later, footage from inside VSS Unity showed the passengers out of their seats, weightless and peering at the Earth outside the rocket’s windows.

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First space flight for tourists lifts off

Virgin Galactic

Further footage from cameras mounted outside of the rocket showed the curvature of the Earth.

The VSS Unity landed at Spaceport America at 9.33am (4.33pm UK time) It was met by applause from those watching on from Virgin Galactic, with the passengers smiling and nodding.

Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic

Mr Goodwin, who has Parkinson’s disease, has said he wants to be an inspiration to others.

“I hope it shows them that these obstacles can be the start rather than the end to new adventures,” he said in a statement.

He secured his seat after buying a $200,000 ticket 18 years ago.

The mother and daughter pair won their places in a prize draw. Ms Mayers is studying physics and philosophy at the University of Aberdeen.

It was Virgin Galactic’s seventh trip to space since 2018, but the first with tourists.

It held its inaugural commercial trip earlier this summer, when three Italian citizens were taken into low orbit for scientific research experiments.

The company is set to offer monthly trips to customers on its winged space plane, joining Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism business.

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