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Sunday marked another 1st in world history. Captain Pete Siebold and co-pilot Mike Alsbury flew the world’s first manned commercial spacecraft as part of a standard operational test flight for Sir Richard Branson’s mission to make space travel possible for the public.
Branson stood proudly at California’s Mojave Desert as his spacecraft, VSS Enterprise, landed safely. The monumental event put his vision of commercial space travel a step closer to reality. According to the statement released by Virgin Galactic, the company behind the project, Branson told everyone “Now, the sky is no longer the limit, and we will begin the process of pushing beyond to the final frontier of space itself over the next year”.
“This was one of the most exciting days in the whole history of Virgin. I watched the world’s first manned commercial spaceship landing on the runway at Mojave Air and Space Port and it was a great moment,” Branson said on Sunday as quoted by a spokesperson for Virgin Galactic.
The VSS Enterprise, Virgin Galactic’s commercial suborbital spacecrafts constructed by Scaled Composites, took the air at 45,000 feet (13,700 meters) with mothership, VSS Eve. The flight mission was very successful as the overall goals were met. The main objective was to perform a smooth release from its parent ship and for the spacecraft to return home to its destination safely. The test flight team was most concern with the overall functioning of the systems, testing the handling, stalling, and stability of the ship.
According to Virgin Galactic, the company underwent extensive preparations for Sunday’s flight . The mothership made 40 test flights earlier, including four captive carry flights of “spaceship and mothership mated together.”
In the official statement issued by the company, Virgin Galactic is predicted to spearhead space tourism. “Virgin Galactic is now well on the way to becoming the world’s first commercial space line with 370 customer deposits totaling $50 million,” the company said.
Virgin Galactic envisions future commercial operations at a one flight per week basis with six passengers on board. The $200,000 package comes with at least three days training and the ride itself. Future flights will be held at New Mexico’s Spaceport America.
“What we want to be able to do is bring space travel down to a price range where hundreds of thousands of people would be able to experience space, and they never dreamed that [they] could,” Branson said last year. He also told CNN that he hopes the technology will bring in a new form of Earth travel, taking people across oceans and continents faster through suborbital routes.
About 80,000 people have already put their names on Virgin Galactic’s waiting list for seats so far.
VSS enterprise’s captain, Siebold, was honored to be a part of the first commercial space craft team. “The VSS Enterprise was a real joy to fly, especially when one considers the fact that the vehicle has been designed not only to be a Mach 3.5 spaceship capable of going into space but also one of the worlds highest altitude gliders.”
The VSS Enterprise’s name is adopted from Star Trek’s USS Enterprise.