Sir Richard Branson’s long held dream of actually flying to space has finally come to fruition on Sunday, July 11, 2021. With his birthday upcoming on July 18, the team at Virgin Galactic, the pilots of the carrier plane, VMS (Virgin Mother Ship) Eve, the pilots of the SpaceShipTwo VSS (Virgin Space Ship) Unity 22 space plane C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, and the [now] astronaut crew of Pilot Dave Mackay, Pilot Michael Masucci, Lead Ops Engineer Coplin Bennet, Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses and the company’s president of government affairs and research ops,Sirisha Bandla, presented the president of the company, Sir Richard Branson, with an amazing, early birthday gift.
With a sense of this day also being the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 landing on the moon — the first crewed mission to the lunar surface — this was the inspiration for Branson who, after watching that major event, decided he had to go to space… he and his teams drove forward to reach that goal and… well… that milestone has now been accomplished.
Those who wish to discuss whether or not this successful flight of VSS Unity truly reached ‘space’ are welcome to do so; however, there is little that can detract from this historic flight.
According to the U.S. military, the Federal Aviation Administration and NASA, the Karman line at 50+ miles above the Earth is considered the boundary of space, and Virgin Galactic has already traveled previously to that designated region with three test missions that were fully crewed.
The VMS Eve activated the launch pylon for release of VSS Unity on schedule with an excited crew awaiting this drop, broad smiles on all of their faces. The exhilaration at what was to come was plainly visible on Sir Richard Branson’s face. Then, the scope of the mission truly hit home with the release and the ignition of the VSS Unity two seconds later, following the drop.
Mach 2 was reached at 00:30 and Mach 3 at 00:57 after engine ignition and pilots Mackay and Masucci activated the Action Control System (for space flight) after a feathering of the space plane. VSS Unity was then turned around in order for the windows aboard the craft to have a full view of Earth. Then, at 2:07, Virgin Galactic space operations announced, “Welcome to space, Unity 22.” Apogee was attained at 282,000 feet.
En route back to Earth, Sir Richard Branson enthusiastically gave all who were involved his heartiest congratulations for the hard work and dedication poured into this mission, which occurred on an absolutely beautiful day in the skies above New Mexico and Spaceport America.
The crowning glory was the pinning of the astronaut badge on the Unity 22 crew and Branson… this was an emotional moment for him and was the perfect closure to a perfect day for Virgin Galactic.