Billionaire Richard Branson’s two-decade experiment in space tourism has finally come to fruition with its first successful tourist flight.
- On Thursday, the VSS Unity took flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico at 8:30 a.m. MT to the atmosphere’s edge for a 15-minute flight, landing at 9:30 a.m.
- The mission—named Galactic 02—carried six passengers, who were the first paying tourists to take flight aboard a commercial Virgin Galactic flight.
- “That was by far the most awesome thing I’ve ever done in my life,” says 80-year-old British Olympian Jon Goodwin.
- Virgin Galactic’s stock has declined 3.6% since the flight.
Why It’s Important
Virgin Galactic now joins Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin at the cutting edge of the private space industry, with more than 800 customers waiting to fly. This mission marks the third flight of the VSS Unity this year, following its first commercial mission in June, carrying Italian scientists into low orbit. What makes it significant is that it is the first flight of their space plane with a paying ticket holder.
Goodwin has been a longtime customer of Virgin Galactic, being among the first to buy a ticket for the flight in 2005. He is an accomplished athlete, having competed as a canoeist for Great Britain in the 1972 Munich Olympics. He was chosen as the first ticket holder to fly because he suffers from Parkinson’s Disease, which he was diagnosed with in 2014, and other customers agreed to let him fly first.
The other customers include Keisha Schahaff, a Caribbean wellness coach, and her daughter Anastatia Mayers, an undergraduate at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland who became the youngest human ever to fly into space. Both women won their seats in a Space for Humanity contest.
“For me to go to space with Parkinson’s is completely magical. I hope this inspires all others facing adversity and shows them that challenges don’t have to inhibit or stop them from pursuing their dreams,” says Goodwin.
“When I was two years old, just looking up to the skies, I thought, ‘How can I get there?’ But, being from the Caribbean, I didn’t see how something like this would be possible. The fact that I am here, the first to travel to space from Antigua, shows that space really is becoming more accessible,” says Schahaff.
Backing Up A Bit
As we previously reported, Virgin Galactic has made strong progress this summer in advancing its mission of space tourism, but the company continues to be in a tight place that puts its future in question. The business annually loses hundreds of millions of dollars—a situation made worse by the abrupt collapse of its sister company Virgin Orbit on April 4, filing for bankruptcy protection and firing its entire staff.
Virgin Group founder Richard Branson has made a successful business portfolio by investing in poorly run businesses and learning to run them better. It is most well known for Virgin Airlines but controls over 400 companies.