After tragedy, multiple delays and plenty of rivalry, Virgin Galactic has completed its first fully crewed spaceflight. The Unity 22 mission saw founder Richard Branson join Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla aboard SpaceShipTwo as they tested the spacecraft and conducted experiments. Branson , as you might guess, was there both for the prestige and to gauge the “private astronaut experience.”
The flight has included some share of controversy. Blue Origin, whose first crewed spaceflight is just days away, has trash-talked Virgin by arguing that SpaceShipTwo wouldn’t really enter space — the craft reached an altitude of ‘just’ 53.4 miles during Unity 22 where the Kármán line (the formal demarcation for space) is 62 miles. If you’re focused on technicalities, Jeff Bezos will be the first corporate magnate to cross that symbolic barrier.
Whether or not you agree, the flight is an important achievement for Virgin. It’s the first full test of SpaceShipTwo, and paves the way for commercial spaceflights if and when they start in 2022. Branson’s outfit has been generating money with test flights, but it won’t fulfill its business ambitions until tourists can finally use their tickets and get a taste of space.
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