Arthur J. Villasanta – Fourth Estate Contributor
Las Vegas, NV, United States (4E) – Barely four months after its new VSS Unity spaceplane reached suborbital space for the first time, Virgin Galactic is confident enough to announce it intends to send its first space tourists into space by Christmas.
This piece of braggadocio was broadcast to the world by Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson. The flamboyant millionaire and adventurer declared he’s “reasonably confident” Virgin Galactic will be the first to space with crewed trips before Christmas ahead of SpaceX and Blue Origin.
Some experts, however, remain unimpressed. Branson, after all, said the same thing 11 years ago. But Branson never said it would be easy or completely free from danger.
“Space is difficult. Rocket science is rocket science,” said Branson. “This has taken us 14 long years, and it’s taken Jeff Bezos 14 long years.”
Branson said he’s “reasonably confident that before Christmas we will (send people to space).”
And as for the dangers, Branson admitted the first few flights to space will be “the dangerous ones.” The daredevil Branson plans to take the trip to Low Earth Orbit (LEO) himself as the first passenger of his spaceplane, SpaceShip Two.
He also said his children will likely follow him into LEO among the first passengers to travel with Virgin Galactic to space.
“Virgin Galactic will be the first (in space),” said Branson emphatically.
The latest flight of VSS Unity on July 26 is the first to reach the mesosphere, which is the atmospheric layer located from 50 km to 100 km above sea level. Beyond the mesosphere is outer space.
The test flight was piloted by Dave Mackay and Mike ‘Sooch’ Masucci. The spaceplane reached an altitude of 52 km and a speed of Mach 2.47 (3,050 km/h).
This success indicated that Branson’s Virgin Group is finally on the verge of attaining its goal of carrying paying passengers into the mesosphere and into outer space for a few seconds.
Virgin Galactic is developing commercial spacecraft like VSS Unity that will fly space tourists into the mesosphere. It will also undertake suborbital launches for space science missions for NASA and scientific institutions worldwide. The company hasn’t said when commercial operations will commence from its Mojave Air and Space Port at Mojave, California.
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