Blastoff! Virgin Galactic rocketed to the edge of space. The space plane carried its first-ever tourists on Thursday. They included a former British Olympian and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean. It was a ride nearly 20 years in the making!
After the approximately 90-minute flight, the plane glided back to a runway landing at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert. The flight gave starry-eyed passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.
The debut of Virgin Galactic’s private customer flight had been delayed for years. Its success means Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic can now start offering monthly rides. It joins Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism business.
Eighty-year-old Jon Goodwin competed in canoeing in the 1972 Olympics—and bought his ticket 18 years ago!
Goodwin was among the first to buy a Virgin Galactic ticket in 2005. After later being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, he feared that he’d never make the flight. The intrepid adventurer has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro and cycled back down. He hopes his spaceflight shows others with illnesses that “it doesn’t stop you doing things.”
Ticket prices were $200,000 when Goodwin signed up. The cost is now $450,000.
Also on the flight were sweepstakes winner Keisha Schahaff, 46, a health coach from Antigua, and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, 18. They high-fived and pumped their fists as the spaceport crowd cheered their return.
“A childhood dream has come true,” says Schahaff. She took pink Antiguan sand up with her.
Her daughter added: “I have no words. The only thought I had the whole time was ‘Wow!’”
The flight was Virgin Galactic’s seventh trip to space since 2018. But it was the first with a ticket-holder. Company founder Branson hopped on board for the first full-size crew ride in 2021. Italian military and government researchers soared on June 29—just five weeks ago—on the first commercial flight. The company says about 800 people are currently on its waiting list.
In contrast to Virgin Galactic’s plane-launched rocket ship, the capsules used by SpaceX and Blue Origin are fully automated and will parachute back down.
Like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin aims for the fringes of space, quick ups-and-downs from West Texas. Blue Origin has launched 31 people so far, but flights are on hold following a rocket crash last fall. The capsule, carrying experiments but no passengers, landed intact.
SpaceX is the only private company flying customers all the way to orbit. It charges tens of millions of dollars per seat. It’s already flown three private crews. NASA is its biggest customer. Since 2020, the federal agency has relied on SpaceX to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station.
Was the long wait worth it? Newly minted astronaut Goodwin calls it “by far the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life!”
When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the Moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him? — Psalm 8:3-4