New Virgin Galactic Space Launch Turns Pilots into Full-Blow Astronauts

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Manned space travel is usually associated with NASA or other government-funded agencies but that may not be the case for much longer thanks to Virgin Galactic. The company’s most recent successful space flight is a good indication that space tourism is now just around the corner. After a rocky start in the mid-2000s and a devastating setback in 2014, Virgin Galactic took a big step forward yesterday by sending two pilots to the edge of space. And, more importantly, bringing them back home safely.

Frederick “CJ” Sturckow and Mark “Forger” Stucky, the two pilots in question, managed to reach an altitude of 51.4 miles (around 83 kilometers) before making their way back to Earth. That’s 1.4 miles beyond the point the US Air Force considers the edge of our planet, which sits at 50 miles. It’s also almost 10 miles below the Karman line, beyond which lies outer space. In other words, the two Virgin Galactic pilots didn’t actually reach the edge of Earth’s orbit. However, CJ and Forger can still be considered astronauts as far as the US Air Force and other US agencies are concerned.

Virgin Galactic CEO is Over the Moon. Figuratively, for Now.

Yesterday’s launch was the fourth test flight aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity and the most successful one to date. The very same spacecraft is expected to one day transport not only trained pilots but tourists as well. Virgin Galactic founder and CEO Richard Branson has been talking about space tourism for a decade now and this test flight was a very important milestone towards finally reaching that goal.

The 2014 catastrophic crash that lead to the death of one pilot was a major setback for Virgin Galactic but it looks like the company is now back on track. Needless to say, Branson was pretty ecstatic and relieved when his freshly minted astronauts made it back in one piece.

“Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder,” said the CEO. “This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.”

Branson isn’t the Only One Dreaming About Space Tourism

Virgin Galactic is making big strides towards launching a space tourism agency but it might not be the first to do it. Competitors like Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Beszos’ Blue Origin are also trying to reach the same goal.

Blue Origin is reportedly already planning to sell tickets aboard its New Shepard spacecraft as early as next year. If you’re thinking about reserving a spot you may want to start saving up because one ticket is expected to cost between $200,000 and $300,000. Not exactly affordable, but then again, space travel isn’t particularly cheap either.

Jason Moth

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