Virgin Galactic joined the exclusive Space club this morning with a successful test flight of its SpaceShipTwo over California’s Mojave Desert. Two pilots, Mark Stucky and C.J Sturckow, were at the controls when SpaceShipTwo and its mothership WhiteKnightTwo left the runway during a gorgeous morning.
Soon after, SpaceShipTwo detached from WhiteKnightTwo, and the pilots ignited its rocket motor. The burn lasted just sixty seconds and brought the two pilots to the beginning of space. Virgin Galactic’s Twitter summed up the historic moment.
And the view was breathtaking.
It’s the first human spaceflight launched from U.S. soil since the last Space Shuttle Mission in 2011. It also marks the first time a crewed vehicle designed for passenger service to touch space.
The final altitude reached by SpaceShipTwo 51.4 miles.
The FAA is planning a ceremony to honor Stucky and Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings early next year. For Sturckow, he will become the only person to be awarded Astronaut Wings by both NASA and the FAA.
Fun fact: The Karman line, at 62 miles above Earth’s sea level, is the most recognized boundary separating the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. But NASA and the FAA recognize any person who has flown higher than 50 miles with Astronaut Wings.
Richard Branson was understandably pumped about today’s historic flight.
“Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private passengers, reached space. Today we completed our first revenue generating flight and our pilots earned their Commercial Astronaut Wings. Today, we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good.”
SpaceShipTwo was also carrying a few more passengers in the form of four NASA-sponsored experiments. A NASA post dives into what each experiment was aiming to achieve during today’s short flight.
Today’s flight was just one more step into opening the final frontier back up. Soon, American astronauts will reach once more for the stars from U.S. soil. And who knows, maybe all of us might have a chance to experience the breathtaking views Stucky and Sturckow experienced today.