See Virgin Galactic Launch The First Tourist Spaceflight In History

Unity, Virgin Galactic's space-traveling aircraft, successfully launched its first tourist mission this week.

By Zack Zagranis | Updated

If you’ve ever wanted to go into space and just happen to have $450,000 burning a hole in your pocket, then good news, you’ll soon be able to make your dream come true. Virgin Galactic just successfully completed its first tourist spaceflight using the company’s Unity spaceplane. You can watch the launch below.

The inaugural flight lasted roughly 90 minutes and was crewed by Walter Vlladei, a NASA trained Italian Air Force colonel, and Pantaleone Carlucci, a researcher with Italy’s National Research Council. Also aboard the flight was Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor Colin Bennett. Bennett was there to make sure the flight experience was up to snuff before the company started taking tourists on spaceflights.

The Unity spaceplane soared to an altitude of 52.9 miles above sea level—technically a few miles shy of actual “space” as defined by the Von Karman Line—after being released from a carrier plane at 44,500 feet.

The Galactic 01 crew conducted a series of suborbital science experiments during the flight involving 13 different payloads carried on board the vessel. The experiments ranged from cosmic radiation to cognitive conditions during spaceflight.

Now that they’ve completed what is essentially the first tourist spaceflight ever, Virgin can move forward with its plans to offer monthly spaceflights to anyone willing to shell out half a million dollars for a seat.

Smart billionaires, however, might want to think twice before jumping on the Unity so early in its career as a commercial vessel. This new extreme tourism trend carries with it certain dangers not shared by regular travel methods.

The recent tragedy involving the Titan submersible was a sobering reminder that the experimental nature of extreme tourism—whether it’s a tourist spaceflight or a trip 20,000 leagues under the sea—means any voyage could turn deadly in an instant.

The private expedition to visit the site of the crashed Titanic should serve as a warning to future weekend astronauts of just how easily tragedy can strike these largely experimental voyages.

Virgin Galactic itself is no stranger to tragedies involving unproven methods of travel. The company, owned by billionaire maverick Richard Branson had a tragedy of its own in 2014.

Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo crashed to the ground during a test flight due to what the National Transportation Safety Board called “inadequate design safeguards, poor pilot training and lack of rigorous oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration.” The crash resulted in the death of co-pilot Michael Alsbury and seriously injured pilot Peter Siebold.

SpaceX launch rocket fuel

Despite the dangers involved, Richard Branson intends to open the Unity up to the public as early as this year following a follow-up mission dubbed Galactic 02 scheduled for early August. That means potentially, people craving a thrill they can’t get as traditional tourists could be on a spaceflight by September.

With an above-mentioned price tag of $450,000 dollars a pop, Virgin Galactic is clearly catering to a very specific clientele.

No word yet on when tourist spaceflights might become affordable for the working class, ala air travel, but it’s bound to happen eventually. Until then, the rest of the world will just have to live vicariously through the few lucky enough to vacation above the atmosphere.

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