Unless you have six or seven figures of spare change sitting in an ISA, chances are you won't be joining the next generation of space tourists any time soon. In 2021, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos briefly left the planet on his Blue Origin spacecraft, and before him, Virgin's Richard Branson fulfilled a decades-old promise to himself by flying aboard VSS Unity beyond the Earth's atmosphere. Whatever your view of the billionaire space race, there's one question we all have: what's it really like? One person uniquely qualified to describe the experience is David Mackay, chief pilot at Virgin Galactic. The former RAF test pilot was in the pilot's seat for Branson's trip in July 2021, which marked the third time that he himself had flown into low-Earth orbit. Here, the first native-born Scot to leave our atmosphere takes us on a trip into low-Earth orbit.
Tell us what it's like when you release from the mothership at altitude and that rocket fires.
That's when the vehicle comes alive. There's no punch in the back. It just comes on and runs up to very high acceleration, about 3G longitudinal acceleration, which is hard for people to understand. It's smooth. It's not very loud, because of course you're leaving a lot of the sound behind you. In about eight seconds you go supersonic and you end up over Mach 3. At the end of boost, we pitch up vertically and then you're pointing straight up, still with this amazing acceleration - but again it's extremely smooth. And then you find yourself weightless.
What's the best view?
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