Today, Virgin Galactic transported its first privately paid explorers—as well as its first prize winners from space sweepstakes—past the 50-mile space threshold.
Keisha Schahaff was one of the tourists on the suborbital space flight known as Galactic 02; she won two tickets in a 2021 online raffle run by the Omaze charity sweepstakes website and the non-profit organization Space for Humanity. She and her daughter Anastatia Mayers flew in space together for the first time, making history as the first spacefliers from Antigua and Barbuda, a nation of Caribbean islands.
“I kind of feel like I was born in this life for this,” health coach Schahaff said on NBC’s “Today” show. Her daughter attends college and wants to study astrobiology.
On today’s Galactic 02 flight, 80-year-old British explorer Jon Goodwin, a canoeist in the 1972 Olympics, also smashed records. He was among the first consumers to reserve a space on Virgin Galactic in 2005, when the cost was $200,000 at the time. Then, over ten years ago, he received a Parkinson’s disease diagnosis. He was just the second person with Parkinson’s to travel to space as of today. Rich Clifford, a NASA shuttle astronaut, was the first.
“When I received a Parkinson’s diagnosis, I assumed that was it. They won’t take me seriously any more,'” Goodwin stated prior to takeoff. “It just goes to show you that this attitude of ‘Space for All’ is a wonderful attitude that I am now one of three [on] the first commercial trip to go into space, having suffered with Parkinson’s for nine years.”
Virgin Galactic pilots C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, as well as lead astronaut instructor Beth Moses, completed the crew. For Latimer, this was his first space voyage.
The flight profile used today was the same as that used for today’s test flight and the June research mission known as Galactic 01 that was flown for the Italian Air Force.
At 8:30 a.m. MT (14:30 UTC), the SpaceShipTwo rocket plane VSS Unity was slung beneath its twin-fuselage carrier aircraft VMS Eve in preparation for departure from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Unity was launched from Eve at a height of 44,300 feet about 47 minutes later, and it ignited its rocket motor to begin the ascent to a maximum height of just over 290,000 feet (55 miles, or 88.4 kilometers).
However, it stayed below the widely acknowledged 100-kilometer (62-mile) space border known as the Karman Line. That altitude was over the 50-mile space limit set by NASA and the FAA.
Riders in Unity’s passenger cabin unbuckled from their chairs at the summit of the journey to enjoy a brief period of weightlessness. They were astounded by images of the Earth arcing beneath the pitch-black expanse of space. After returning to their seats for the high-G descent, they celebrated their accomplishment by raising the Antiguan flag.
Richard Branson, the company’s billionaire creator, was among the well-wishers on Antigua in the audience seen on Virgin Galactic’s webcast cheering on the spacefliers.
A little after 9:30 MT (15:30 UTC), Unity made a smooth landing at Spaceport America. Nicola Pecile and Mike Masucci, the pilots of the carrier aircraft, landed the plane shortly after.
Following the event, Goodwin remarked that it was “far more dramatic than I imagined it might be.”
He declared, “It was without a doubt the most thrilling day of my life.”
She wasn’t yet prepared to return to Earth, according to Schahaff. “I’m still up there,” she affirmed. I haven’t arrived yet.
Her daughter sounded as though she had experienced the Overview Effect, as astronauts refer to it. “I was shocked at the things that you feel,” Mayers remarked. “Compared to what you might assume, you are considerably more connected to everything. You had a sense of belonging to the group, the ship, the cosmos, and the planet Earth. It was astounding.
Despite the fact that this was the first Virgin Galactic trip to carry crew members who may be categorized as space tourists, the New Shepard suborbital spacecraft’s first crewed flight by Blue Origin established a precedent earlier. Oliver Daemen, a Dutch student, was on board the flight; his family paid an undisclosed cost for the trip. Mayers, who is also 18 years old, is currently the youngest woman to fly in suborbital space.