Virgin Galactic, the space venture founded by British billionaire Richard Branson, is on the verge of a momentous milestone as it prepares to launch its first commercial flight to the edge of space. This long-awaited achievement comes after enduring setbacks and delays that spanned two decades.
According to Al Jazeera, the highly anticipated flight, named Galactic 01, will feature a noteworthy group of passengers, including two Italian air force officers, an aerospace engineer from the National Research Council of Italy, a Virgin Galactic instructor, and the two skilled pilots responsible for navigating the spaceplane.
The upcoming journey is expected to last approximately 90 minutes, marking a significant advancement in the realm of space tourism. Notably, this comes two years after Virgin Galactic successfully completed its first fully crewed test spaceflight of the VSS Unity rocket plane.
The company's innovative approach involves utilizing a "mothership" aircraft, piloted by two experts, which takes off from a conventional runway and ascends to high altitude. From there, the rocket-powered VSS Unity is deployed and propels itself into space at an impressive speed close to Mach 3 before making its descent back to Earth.
Passengers fortunate enough to secure a seat inside the spaceplane's cabin will encounter a truly extraordinary experience. During the flight, they will revel in several minutes of weightlessness, providing them with a unique perspective on our planet's curvature.
The event is generating significant buzz, and those unable to witness it in person will have the opportunity to follow along via a live stream on the company's website, further fueling the excitement surrounding this groundbreaking endeavor.
Virgin Galactic's ambition and vision have resonated with the public, as evidenced by the sale of approximately 800 tickets for its commercial flights. Al Jazeera reports that between 2005 and 2014, the company managed to sell around 600 tickets priced between $200,000 and $250,000.
Since then, an additional 200 tickets have been sold, each priced at $450,000. Among the early adopters were film actors and other notable celebrities who eagerly secured their spots. However, Virgin Galactic faced a devastating setback in 2014 when its space plane experienced a midair breakup during a test flight, resulting in the tragic loss of a co-pilot's life and severe injuries to the pilot.
Looking ahead, Virgin Galactic has already announced plans for its next scheduled commercial flight, Galactic 02, which is slated for August. These monthly space journeys are expected to be in high demand, capturing the imagination of adventure seekers and enthusiasts alike.
In the fiercely competitive suborbital space tourism sector, Virgin Galactic faces competition from Blue Origin, led by US billionaire Jeff Bezos, and Elon Musk's SpaceX. Blue Origin, despite having successfully sent 32 people into space, faced its own setback in September 2022 when an accident led to the grounding of its rocket.
However, the company has expressed its commitment to resuming spaceflight in the near future. Meanwhile, SpaceX made headlines in September 2021 when it embarked on a three-day orbital trip with a crew of private astronauts, further elevating the allure and appeal of space exploration.
Virgin Galactic's impending launch coincides with heightened awareness surrounding the high-stakes adventures pursued by affluent adventurers. This heightened scrutiny comes on the heels of a recent tragedy involving an OceanGate Expeditions submersible en route to explore the wreckage of the Titanic in the Atlantic Ocean.
Sadly, five individuals lost their lives, including three who had purchased tickets costing approximately $250,000 each, highlighting the risks associated with such exclusive undertakings.
As Virgin Galactic takes its pioneering steps towards commercial space tourism, the world eagerly watches, captivated by the possibilities and the extraordinary feat of making space travel accessible to a broader audience.