We have all watched various rockets take off with astronauts, and we have all watched those astronauts returned to earth, but most of what we watched was paid for by the American taxpayer. We are entering a new era of space exploration where successful businessmen can venture into space.
NewsMax reported the following today:
British billionaire Richard Branson on Sunday soared more than 50 miles above the New Mexico desert aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket plane and safely returned in the vehicle’s first fully crewed test flight to space, a symbolic milestone for a venture he started 17 years ago.
Branson, one of six Virgin Galactic Holding Inc employees strapped in for the ride, has touted the mission as a precursor to a new era of space tourism, with the company he founded in 2004 poised to begin commercial operations next year.
The success of the flight also gave the flamboyant entrepreneur bragging rights in a highly publicized rivalry with fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, the Amazon online retail mogul who had hoped to fly into space first aboard his own space company’s rocket.
Sunday’s launch of the VSS Unity passenger rocket plane marked the company’s 22nd test flight of its SpaceShipTwo system, and its fourth crewed mission beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It was also the first to carry a full complement of space travelers – two pilots and four “mission specialists,” Branson among them.
The article continues:
Virgin has said it plans at least two further test flights of the spaceplane in the months ahead before beginning regular commercial operation in 2022.
This is no discount travel service. But demand is apparently strong, with several hundred wealthy would-be citizen astronauts already having booked reservations, priced at around $250,000 per ticket.
The Swiss-based investment bank UBS has estimated the potential value of the space tourism market reaching $3 billion annually by 2030.
Proving rocket travel safe for the public is key, given the inherent dangers of spaceflight.
The article concludes with a bit of a food-fight over the accomplishment:
Blue Origin has disparaged Virgin Galactic as falling short of a true spaceflight experience, saying that unlike Unity, Bezos’s New Shepard tops the 62-mile-high-mark (100 km), called the Kármán line, set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
“New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin said in a series of Twitter posts on Friday.
However, U.S. space agency NASA and the U.S. Air Force both define an astronaut as anyone who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 km).
A third player in the space race, Musk’s SpaceX, plans to send its first all-civilian crew (without Musk) into orbit in September, after having already launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
Branson’s official role in Sunday’s test flight was to “evaluate the private astronaut experience,” according to Virgin’s press materials.
The spaceplane’s two pilots, Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, were tasked with controlling the ignition and shutoff of the ship’s rocket, activating the vehicle’s “feathered” tail maneuver for re-entry and steering the ship back to Earth.
The three other mission specialists were Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Virgin Galactic’s lead operations engineer Colin Bennett; and Sirisha Bandla, a research operations and government affairs vice president.
At any rate, private space flight is a step forward. This is amazing.