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article imageVirgin Galactic space plane takes first test passenger into space

By Karen Graham     Feb 22, 2019 in Technology
In its first flight with a test passenger on board, Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity flew into the Mojave sunrise this morning (Feb. 22) and soared to an altitude of 55.87 miles (89.9 kilometers), just two months after its first flight.
Not only did Virgin Galactic's rocket-powered plane, VSS Unity travel to a record altitude of nearly 56 miles, it also reached a top speed of Mach 3.0. And just for the record books — this time it reached an altitude that was 4.4 miles (7 km) higher than Virgin Galactic's historic Dec. 13 flight.
Two pilots, Dave Mackay, and Mike “Sooch” Masucci and for the first time, an additional crew member, Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, were on board. All three earned their commercial astronaut wings.
At 8 a.m. PT, WhiteKnightTwo took off and lifted Unity to an altitude of 45,000 feet where the spaceplane was then released. The spaceplane then swooped into the atmosphere 295,000 feet high, at three times the speed of sound.
At the very peak of its flight path, Unity experienced a few minutes of weightlessness, something that space tourists will be paying between $200,000 and $250,000 to experience with Virgin Galactic. So far, there is a waiting list of about 600 would-be space tourists hoping to get their astronaut's wings.
The Unity's passenger, Beth Moses actually was on board for a specific purpose. She has already completed 400 flights at 0 g and was on board to provide more data about how human bodies experience SpaceShipTwo flights and what the in-cabin experience is like for passengers.
The flight also had four NASA payloads, including one each to study the implications of microgravity on how liquids and gases interact, how payloads vibrate and how dust particles behave, as well as testing electromagnetic field sensor equipment.
A bit of healthy competition
Sir Richard Bransom's Virgin Galactic is neck-and-neck with its chief competitor, Jeff Bezos's Blue Origin. Both companies have spent over 10 years working on space tourism technologies, with both planning on opening for business sometime this year. But both CEO's will tell you they are not going to rush - They are putting "safety first."
Jeff Bezos couldn't help but take a little jab at Virgin Galactic on Thursday during an interview with Space News. Bezos said: "We've always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Karman Line because we didn't want there to be any asterisks next to your name about whether you're an astronaut or not. That's something [Virgin Galactic is] going to have to address, in my opinion."
Bezos was talking about the Karman Line, an imaginary line 62 miles above the Earth and internationally recognized as the boundary of space. However, the United States recognizes 50-miles as being the mark used for the edge of space.
More about Virgin galactic, Unity, edge of space, Mach 3, altitude record
 
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