Virgin Galactic is about to launch its first fully crewed mission to space. Company founder Richard Branson is going along for the ride, which could pave the way for a commercial space tourism service.
Virgin Galactic shared a video (below) on Thursday showing engineers attaching the VSS Unity space plane to the mothership VMS Eve ahead of Sunday’s highly anticipated flight.
3 days until #Unity22! Come inside the hangar for pre-flight preparations as our spaceship VSS Unity joins forces with our mothership VMS Eve. Watch the launch live this Sunday at 6 am PT | 9 am ET | 2 pm BST. https://t.co/WEBNyUYpRQ pic.twitter.com/xakebHTN5T
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 8, 2021
The mission will see Eve carry rocket-powered Unity and its six crew members to an altitude of about 50,000. Eve will then release Unity, allowing it to fire up its rocket and blast its way to the Kármán line 62 miles above Earth, widely considered as the edge of space. There the crew will enjoy amazing views and several minutes of weightlessness before Unity returns a short while later for a runway landing.
Piloting Unity will be Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will fly Eve. The four mission specialists taking the ride aboard Unity will be Branson, who’s tasked with evaluating the private astronaut experience; Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor at Virgin Galactic, who will oversee the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives; Colin Bennett, lead operations engineer, tasked with evaluating cabin equipment, procedures, and the overall experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic, who will evaluate the human-tended research experience using an experiment provided by the University of Florida.
The flight comes about a week before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos intends to use his Blue Origin-built New Shepard rocket for a ride to the Kármán line ahead of a planned space tourism service. Branson announced his flight just days after Bezos announced his own mission, with some suggesting the Brit billionaire was merely trying to gain bragging rights by beating Bezos to space. But when asked in a CNBC interview earlier this week if there was any rivalry between him and Bezos, 70-year-old Branson said: “I know nobody will believe me when I say it, but honestly there isn’t.”
Moneyed folks have already been dropping $250,000 each for a seat on Unity in future flights. If Sunday’s outing goes smoothly, they could be heading skyward soon.
Virgin Galactic’s flight will take off from Mojave Air and Space Port about 70 miles north of Los Angeles, California, on Sunday, July 11. The livestream will be presented by Late Show show host Stephen Colbert. Digital Trends has everything you need to know about how to watch the event.