‘It exceeded my wildest dreams’: Virgin Galactic’s first ‘space tourism’ flight returns after successful first trip

10 August 2023, 16:13 | Updated: 11 August 2023, 01:55

Virgin Galactic's first space tourists strapped inside and in space
Virgin Galactic's first space tourists strapped inside and in space. Picture: social media

By Will Taylor

Virgin Galactic's first space tourism flight has safely landed back on earth after a successful first mission.

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The flight blasted off with an 80-year-old British former Olympian, an 18-year-old student and her mother on board on Thursday.

Antiguan mother and daughter duo Keisha Schahaff, 46 and Anastatia Mayers, 18 and retired British Olympian Jon Goodwin, 80, made history for the Richard Branson-founded company when they ventured into space.

Mr Goodwin, who is the second person with Parkinson’s to enter space, said after the flight: “It was far more dramatic than I imagined it would be.

“It was the pure acceleration – Mach 3 in eight-and-a-half seconds – (that) was completely surreal, and the re-entry was a lot more dramatic than I imagined.

“In fact, I would’ve said it was out of control if I didn’t know anything different. But it was a completely surreal experience.

“The most impressive thing was looking at Earth from space – the pure clarity was very moving. Without a doubt the most exciting day in my life.”

It "exceeded my wildest dreams", he also added.

While Ms Schahaff said after the trip: “I’m still up there, I’m not here yet, and it’s just amazing that you can land so smoothly on the runway coming back from space.

“It was so comfortable, it was really the best ride ever, and I would love to do this again.”

After the 'hero walk' where they said goodbye to friends and family on Thursday, the three individuals strapped inside the VSS Unity rocket attached to the underbelly of a larger carrier plane named Eve.

The VSS Unity took off from New Mexico shortly before 4pm UK time and was due to complete a 90-minute flight.

The rocket travelled towards space at 1,000km an hour.

Virgin Galactic space tourists heading into space
Virgin Galactic space tourists heading into space. Picture: social media
On board as the tourists reach space
On board as the tourists reach space. Picture: social media

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The planes soared about 44,000 feet above Earth's surface, where they then separated and the spaceplane carried the three new astronauts over 50 miles above sea level for passengers to enjoy incredible views of Earth.

The mother and daughter won their seats in a sweepstakes and Goodwin purchased his seat for $250,000 in 2005 - he will be the first Olympian to travel into space.

Branson was not present at the launch but was in Antigua with Schahaff and Mayers' family to celebrate the launch.

Virgin Galactic has already booked a backlog of 800 customers vying for their chance to go to space, which was made possible by the company's inaugural mission in June.

Tickets were sold for $250,000 but have since increased to $450,000.

Today's historic Galactic 02 mission will have six people on board, including three Virgin Galactic employees – Commander Frederick Sturckow, Pilot Kelly Latimer, and Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses.

Schahaff, from Antigua, won a sweepstake with Omaze. Mayers, the second youngest person to travel to space, is one of Schahaff's two daughters.

She is in her second year studying philosophy and physics at the University of Aberdeen. studying Philosophy and Physics. Mayers is set on becoming an astrobiologist.

Goodwin competed in the 1972 Munich Games.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014 and has since been dedicated to raising awareness for the disease and the importance of research into finding a cure - and hopes that taking part in this mission will help shine a spotlight on the condition.

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