Published: Mon, December 17, 2018
Science | By Michele Flores

Virgin Galactic flew an engagement ring to space

Virgin Galactic flew an engagement ring to space

The successful test flight presages a new era of civilian space travel that could kick off as soon as next year, with Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic battling billionaire-backed ventures such as Inc founder Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin, to be the first to offer suborbital flights to fare-paying tourists.

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo (SS2) took two pilots above 50 miles (80 kilometers) in altitude today, which some consider the demarcation between air and space.

Two pilots, a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in for a passenger and four research payloads for NASA were on board the flight.

SS2 is the first spaceship developed entirely by the private sector and created to carry private passengers on a commercial basis.

"We made it to space", Enrico Palermo, president of The Spaceship Company, Virgin Galactic's manufacturing partner, said while addressing a crowd of cheering spectators at space port in California. The flight on December 13 was Virgin Galactic longest rocket-powered flight ever.

SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, reached an astounding altitude of 271,268ft (82km) after released by its carrier plane at 43,000ft (13km) It reached a high speed of 2.9 times the speed of sound.

The US space agency paid Virgin Galactic to fly four space science and technology experiments on the VSS Unity, "making this Virgin Galactic's first revenue generating flight", the company added. "Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder", said the CEO.

Branson, who said he personally put up $1 billion toward the roughly $1.3 billion development costs for Virgin's space businesses, told Reuters he viewed competition with Bezos and others as a race, though passenger safety was the top priority.

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Virgin Galactic's spaceship did not launch on a rocket but took off attached to an airplane from Mojave, California.

"Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled". "How on earth do I describe the feeling? Joy?"

It's the first time since 2011, when the U.S. retired the Space Shuttle, that humans have taken off from American soil and gone into space, reported Wired Magazine. To do this, the company had to push its rocket motor to the longest burn duration yet, 'resulting in us going higher than we have before.' Virgin Galactic's WhiteKnightTwo mothership took off shortly after 10 a.m. (ET) from the Mojave airstrip carrying SpaceShipTwo.

In the process, Stucky and Sturckow became Virgin Galactic's first astronauts.

He called yesterday "a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration".

"Reusable vehicles built and operated by private companies are about to transform our business and personal lives in ways which are as yet hard to imagine. Today is really as much for them since it is for all those this".

It should be noted that Virgin is using one measure of where space begins - but it's not the only one.

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