Virgin Galactic successfully launched its first paying customers to the edge of space on Thursday.
The company’s debut commercial flight took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on Thursday morning.
The entire experience from launch to landing, which included a rocket ride to a point about 53 miles above Earth, lasted around 70 minutes.
Riding aboard the VSS Unity plane were Colonel Walter Villadei and Lieutenant Colonel Angelo Landolfi from the Italian Air Force, and Pantaleone Carlucci from the National Research Council of Italy. Virgin Galactic instructor Colin Bennett was also aboard the aircraft, which was piloted by Mike Masucci and Nicola Pecile.
A video (below) released by Virgin Galactic showed some of the highlights from the mission.
At its highest point, the passengers are able to leave their seats and enjoy a few minutes of weightlessness. But as Virgin Galactic’s first commercial mission was geared toward science research in microgravity conditions, Landolfi and Carlucci stayed in their seats to focus on their work. Villadei did, however, leave his seat for a brief while, floating through the cabin to deploy some experiments aboard the vehicle.
Virgin Galactic also live-streamed the event. The video (below) starts at the point where the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, releases VSS Unity at around 45,000 feet. Unity then fires up its rocket to blast the vehicle and its passengers and crew on a near-vertical flight path to just shy of the Karman line, the place widely accepted as where space begins.
The crew landed safely back at base, completing Virgin Galactic’s first-ever commercial trip. A short while later, Villadei described the adventure as “a beautiful ride” and “an unforgettable experience” that went by “very fast.”
It hasn’t been easy for Virgin Galactic to reach this point. The endeavor involved many years of testing, multiple delays, and the tragic death of test pilot Michael Alsbury in a crash in 2014. Indeed, there were times when it wasn’t clear if the project would ever get to launch its first commercial flight.
The company will now focus on serving the hundreds of people who’ve paid up to $450,000 for the one-off experience, with the next flight set for August.