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Virgin Galactic flies first tourists to the edge of space

A Virgin Galactic craft sits at the entrance of Spaceport America (Algernon D'Ammassa/TNS)

Virgin Galactic took a paying customer to the edge of space for the first time Thursday, after years of delays and setbacks.

Mission Galactic 02 departed Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, N.M. at 8:44 a.m. local time. The carrier vessel VMS Eve released the VSS Unity spaceplane about 30 minutes later, and it rocketed to the edge of space with three customers on board.

The three passengers, their instructor and two pilots enjoyed a few minutes of weightlessness and viewed Earth from space before the pilots guided the plane to a safe landing back on the runway at 9:30 a.m.

Jon Goodwin, an 80-year-old ex-Olympian with Parkinson’s disease, was the first person to pay Virgin Galactic for a trip to space. He paid $200,000 for a ticket back in 2005. A seat now costs $450,000.

Keisha Schahaff, 46, won a two-ticket sweepstakes to be part of the trip. Her 18-year-old daughter, Anastatia Mayers, joined her. The Antigua residents became the first Caribbean women to go to space.

Goodwin was one of Virgin Galactic’s first 50 customers, and billionaire owner Richard Branson had planned a lottery to select the first passenger. But the group agreed Goodwin should go first because of his age and the disease he is fighting.

Galactic 01, the company’s first commercial spaceflight, blasted off in June. It carried Italian military and government researchers instead of paying customers. Branson, 73, was on board a July 2021 flight.

The British billionaire founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 and promised for years that he would take people to space. He followed Elon Musk and beat Jeff Bezos by days in the billionaire space race.

Virgin Galactic flights travel 55 miles above the Earth’s surface, higher than the U.S. designation for outer space at 50 miles. However, they fall short of the 62-mile high Karman line, which is more popular outside the U.S.


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