Virgin Galactic launching its first space tourist flight, stepping up commercial operations


Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic is picking up the pace in the space tourism marketplace with the launch Thursday of its VSS Unity rocketplane carrying an 80-year-old former British Olympian and a mother and daughter from Antigua and Barbuda who won their tickets to fly through a fundraising lottery for the nonprofit Space for Humanity.

Jon Goodwin, an Olympian canoeist in the 1972 Munich games, health and wellness coach Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Anastatia Mayers, a physics and philosophy student at Aberdeen University, will be joined by Virgin Galactic commander C.J. Stuckow, pilot Kelly Latimer and chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses for the up-and-down sub-orbital spaceflight.

Sturckow will be making his eighth spaceflight — four aboard the space shuttle and now four at the controls of Virgin’s spaceplane — while Moses will be making her fourth, all aboard VSS Unity. Latimer and Virgin’s three passengers are making their first voyage out of the atmosphere.

“I cannot wait to go above the Earth’s atmosphere and experience the different energy from here on Earth,” Schahaff said in a news release. “To represent my island, Antigua, is truly an honor. I hope my journey will inspire others to reach for their dreams as well.”

Schahaff and Mayers won their tickets through a fund-raising lottery benefitting Space for Humanity, a non-profit founded by philanthropist and space entrepreneur Dylan Taylor that is devoted to “expanding access to space for all of humanity.” Branson personally delivered the tickets.

Goodwin, who bought his ticket to fly in 2005, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014. But that did not deter him or Virgin Galactic.

“From becoming an Olympian to canoeing between the peaks of Annapurna, to winning a six-day race in the Arctic Circle, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro and cycling back down, I’ve always enjoyed rising to new challenges,” he said in a Virgin press release.

“When I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2014, I was determined not to let it stand in the way of living life to the fullest. And now for me to go to space with Parkinson’s is completely magical. I hope this inspires all others facing adversity and shows them that challenges don’t have to inhibit or stop them from pursuing their dreams.”

The flight is Virgin’s second commercial mission, following on the heels of a flight June 29 that carried three Italian air force researchers, two Virgin pilots and a company engineer to an altitude of nearly 53 miles.

That flight was chartered by the Italian government while Thursday’s flight is the first with “private astronauts.” Virgin officials say some 800 applicants are on the waiting list to fly aboard the company’s spaceplane.

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