Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism flight set to take off

By: Agence France-Presse

The long-awaited, first civilian space tourism flight by Virgin Galactic was set for takeoff Thursday, carrying an 80-year-old ex-Olympian and a mother and daughter who won their tickets in a sweepstakes.

The three passengers — Jon Goodwin, 80; Keisha Schahaff, 46; and her daughter Anastatia Mayers, 18 — will spend a few minutes in space, where they can admire the curvature of the Earth and briefly float in weightlessness.

The flight will be the culmination of a nearly two-decade-old promise by British billionaire Richard Branson, Virgin Galactic’s founder, to bring tourists into space, giving them the chance to experience weightlessness and see the earth.

This mission, named Galactic 02, is the company’s second commercial flight.

The first at the end of June carried a group of senior Italian Air Force officers who had carried out several experiments on board, rather than civilians making the trip purely for pleasure.

Schahaff, a health coach from Antigua and Barbuda, won a contest for the tickets that raised $1.7 million for the non-profit Space for Humanity, which aims to widen space access.

Mayers is a student at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, studying philosophy and physics.

“I always was interested in space as a little girl,” Schahaff told AFP in an interview in 2021. “This is a great opportunity for me to feel alive and to just make the greatest adventure ever.”

Goodwin is an adventurer who competed in the 1972 Olympic games as a canoeist for Britain.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 and will be the second person with the condition to travel to space.

Virgin Galactic’s spaceflights involve a giant, twin-fuselage carrier aircraft that takes off from a runway, gains altitude, then drops a rocket-powered spaceplane that soars into space.

The passengers experience a few minutes of weightlessness at around 53 miles (85 kilometers) above sea level, before the spacecraft glides back to Earth.

Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic has sold around 800 tickets for seats on future commercial flights — 600 between 2005 and 2014 for $200,000 to $250,000, and 200 since then for $450,000 each.

Virgin Galactic competes in the “suborbital” space tourism sector with billionaire Jeff Bezos’s company Blue Origin, which has already sent 31 people into space using a vertical lift-off rocket.

But since an accident in September 2022 during an unmanned flight, Blue Origin’s rocket has been grounded. The company promised in March to resume spaceflight soon.