At 0915 Mountain Time (1515 UTC), the VMS Eve mothership took off from New Mexico’s Spaceport America, carrying its spacecraft to an altitude of 44,500 feet (over 13.5km). Pilots on VSS Unity, which rides along with VMS Eve, then fired its rockets to take its six passengers even higher – to 54.2 miles (over 87.2km) at nearly three times the speed of sound.
After a few minutes of weightlessness, during which the crew could gawp at Earth’s totally not flat surface from suborbital space, the craft descended and landed back safely at 1037 MT (1647 UTC).
The entire crew consisted of Virgin Galactic employees. Pilot Nicola Pecile and commander Jameel Janjua flew VMS Eve, whilst Unity’s crew was another pilot and commander pair – CJ Sturckow and Mike Masucci – plus astronaut instructors Beth Moses and Luke Mays, and mission specialists Christopher Huie and Jamila Gilbert.
CEO Michael Colglazier said the latest flight – the 25th test conducted by Richard Branson’s space tourism venture – was the last before Virgin Galactic opens for business next month.
Tickets for a seat on the VSS Unity spacecraft aren’t cheap. Space fans hoping to experience brief weightlessness and a taste of space will have to fill out an application form, and fork over $10,000 upfront just to get Virgin Galactic to consider them for a ticket. The lucky few should expect to pay a total of $450,000 for a ride aboard the VSS Unity.