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Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism flight launches today – here’s what you need to know

Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism flight launches today, blasting a former Olympian and mother-daughter duo above the Earth.

It follows the company’s inaugural commercial trip earlier this summer, when three Italian citizens were taken into low orbit for scientific research experiments.

Thursday’s take-off is billed as a recreational endeavour, with some crewmates winning their seats in a prize draw.

Who’s on board?

The former Olympian on board is Jon Goodwin, who competed in canoeing at the 1972 Games in Munich.

The 80-year-old, from Newcastle, will be the second person with Parkinson’s disease to reach the edge of space.

He said: “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.”

Jon Goodwin. Pic: Virgin Galactic
Jon Goodwin. Pic: Virgin Galactic

Joining him on VSS Unity are Keisha Schahaff, 46, and 18-year-old Anastatia Mayers, who will become the first astronauts – professional or otherwise – from the Caribbean.

They will also be the first mother and daughter to travel on a spaceflight together.

Keisha Schahaff. Pic: Virgin Galactic
Keisha Schahaff. Pic: Virgin Galactic

Ms Schahaff is a wellness coach, while her daughter studies philosophy and physics at the University of Aberdeen.

Ms Schahaff said: “I know I’ll be changed by my experience.

“I hope I’ll be able to share that energy and inspire the people around me – in my role as a life coach, a mother, and ambassador for our beautiful planet.”

Anastatia Mayers. Pic: Virgin Galactic
Anastatia Mayers. Pic: Virgin Galactic

Of course, the crew won’t be heading into space alone.

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They’ll be joined by pilots CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, alongside astronaut instructor Beth Moses.

Astronaut instructor Beth Moses
Astronaut instructor Beth Moses. Pic: Virgin Galactic

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When and where is the launch happening?

The launch will happen at Spaceport America in New Mexico, with the window for take-off opening at 4pm UK time.

Similarly to how the now-defunct Virgin Orbit carried a rocket skyward from Newquay back in January, it will see VSS Unity attached to a plane.

Once the plane has taken off from the runway and hit release altitude, the spacecraft will be released and use its powerful rocket engine to shoot up to around 50 miles above the Earth.

VSS Unity. Pic: Virgin Galactic
The flight promises stunning views of Earth. Pic: Virgin Galactic

Those piloting the plane, known as VMS Eve, will not reach space.

The duo, Nicola Pecile and Mike Masucci, will instead head straight back to the runway.

The crew who do carry on into orbit will experience five minutes of weightlessness and some great views, before heading home.

The whole flight will only take around 90 minutes.

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A view inside the VSS Unity during a previous spaceflight. Pic: Virgin Galactic
A view inside the VSS Unity during a previous spaceflight. Pic: Virgin Galactic

How can I watch it?

You can watch a live stream of the launch on the Sky News website, app, and YouTube channel.

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If you can’t watch it live, you’ll be able to catch it later on demand.

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Will there be more flights like this in future?

Virgin Galactic is aiming to carry out monthly private flights, with seats priced between $250,000 (£191,000) and $450,000 (£344,000).

It means the next flight could happen as soon as September.

For anyone without such riches to call upon, they’ll have to rely on other opportunities.

Ms Schahaff and her daughter won their seats in a contest to raise funds for Space for Humanity, a non-profit group that aims to send ordinary citizens into space to give them a “grander perspective” on the challenges facing Earth.



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