As the VMS Eve two-plane mothership hurtles higher into Earth’s atmosphere, it leaves the New Mexico desert basin shrinking in the distance below. The aircraft soars and continues its climb. Faster. Faster.
Suddenly, a woman’s voice pierces through the intercom static and is heard saying, “Three. Two. One. Release, release, release!” At that moment, the mothership jettisons the VSS Unity spaceplane carrying its two pilots and four passengers. The VSS Unity achieves a speed of Mach 3 after breaking away from the main aircraft and continues its ascension to space, reaching an altitude of 53.5 miles.
Among its crew of respected mission specialists, Virgin Galactic founder and billionaire tycoon Sir Richard Branson chuckles with glee as he begins to make out the Earth’s curvature below while peering through one of the spaceplane’s 12 large windows.
The pilot’s voice sounds the command. “You are clear to unstrap,” followed by “welcome to space!” All passengers, save for Branson, marvel at their weightlessness and float about the craft’s cabin while the mustachioed Branson continues to observe the wondrous view from the comfort of his seat.
“To all you kids down there,” he begins. “I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars and now, I’m an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth. For the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you could do.”
On July 11, Virgin Galactic successfully achieved its first crewed spaceflight, and the world watched with bated breath as the event was broadcasted live for all to see.
Founded in 2004, Virgin Galactic Airways is the brainchild of Branson, whose interest in searching for vehicles to launch tourists on suborbital flights dates back to 1999.
In the years that followed the company’s emergence, Branson and former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson solidified plans to locate the spaceflight company’s world headquarters at a custom-built spaceport near Truth or Consequences, NM. Dubbed ‘Spaceport America,’ the hub stretches across 27 square miles of state land and began construction on June 19, 2009, to the tune of $225 million.
Since then, there have been several advancements in research and engineering to account for the various spaceplane and carrier aircraft that led to the recent 22nd test flight of the VSS Unity, which also marked its first launch with a full crew in the cabin that, of course, included Branson himself.
“Our mission is to make space more accessible to all,” Branson said. “In that spirit, and with today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true.”
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