Virgin Galactic completes first manned mission to space: Check who travelled and came back

Virgin Galactic, the space venture established by British entrepreneur Richard Branson, has achieved a significant milestone as it successfully completed its first manned mission to the edge of space. The inaugural commercial flight, which took place on June 29, marks a momentous achievement for Virgin Galactic after two decades of dedicated efforts.

The mission featured two Italian Air Force personnel who were funded by the organisation. Colonel Walter Villadei, who is also slated for a future paid SpaceX mission to orbit, and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi, a physician trained as a crew surgeon for Russian cosmonauts, were among the passengers.

Additionally, Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer affiliated with Italy’s National Research Council, and Colin Bennett, a Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor who previously flew with Branson in 2021, were part of the group. Bennett’s role was to assess the flight’s comfort and functionality, providing valuable feedback to enhance Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered spaceplane, VSS Unity.

Unlike its competitor Blue Origin, founded by Jeff Bezos, this particular mission had a research-oriented focus rather than catering to celebrities and affluent thrill-seekers, according to CNN. Nevertheless, future flights by Virgin Galactic are anticipated to encompass a diverse array of high-profile clientele.

The journey unfolded in multiple stages, commencing at Virgin Galactic’s spaceport in New Mexico. The passengers boarded VSS Unity, which was securely attached beneath the wing of the enormous twin-fuselage mothership known as VMS Eve.

Similar to an aircraft, VMS Eve accelerated down the runway before ascending to an altitude exceeding 40,000 feet. After reaching the designated altitude, VMS Eve released VSS Unity, allowing it to ignite its rocket engine and ascend directly upward, propelling it toward the outer realms.

Ascending more than 80 kilometres above Earth’s surface, VSS Unity reached the altitude recognized by the United States government as the edge of outer space. It achieved supersonic speeds during its ascent and experienced moments of weightlessness at the peak of its flight, as it entered freefall and glided back to the spaceport for a runway landing. The entire expedition lasted approximately 90 minutes.

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Updated: 30 Jun 2023, 08:58 AM IST

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