A New Milestone in Civilian Space Travel

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A New Milestone in Civilian Space Travel

Jacob Pieczynski, Contributor

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Up until now, the idea of sending a live human being into space has pretty much been a dream only achievable through a government agency such as the United States’ NASA or Russia’s Roscosmos. On Thursday, December 17, Virgin Galactic sent two private citizens into space. The two pilots, flew just to the broadly recognized edge of space, reaching exactly 51.4 miles over the Earth. Mark “Forger” Stucky, 59, and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow were Marines and took on the struggle of flying up.

The two former Marines have more than 15,000 flying hours between them, and hundreds spent up in space and on the International Space Station. They were some of the first private citizens who earned Commercial Astronaut Wings from the United States government. It was difficult and frightening for them to take on this challenge. Back on October 31, 2014, a Virgin Galactic flight aimed at achieving the same thing Stucky and Sturckow did kill a co-pilot. The co-pilot was killed and Stucky says that they were very close friends. His shuttle, SpaceShipTwo, was rebuilt after it ripped apart in midair and a modified version of it was what Stucky and Sturckow flew up to space.

On liftoff, a plane, WhiteKnightTwo, was hooked to SpaceShipTwo on both sides. Taking off like a normal plane, it flew up to 40,000 feet, carrying SpaceShipTwo up about as high as they could go. WhiteKnightTwo dropped SpaceShipTwo, and the shuttle blasted its engines, going almost vertical. The shuttle was the first crewed flight from the United States soil since NASA retired the Space Shuttle in 2011. SpaceShipTwo resembles a normal airplane and has the capacity to hold passengers. Dubbed the VSS Unity, it carried the two pilots, four NASA research payloads, and a mannequin named Annie as a stand-in passenger.

The flight reached speeds of nearly Mach 3, three times the speed of sound. The 60-foot long plane is meant to carry regular people later on, once all the tweaks are figured out.

Virgin Galactic was founded in 2004 by billionaire Richard Branson. His company competes with Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and his company Blue Origin to be the first company to conduct suborbital tourism flights. These flights are meant to take citizens up into space, but not into full orbit, hence the name suborbital tourism flights. Early next year, rival companies SpaceX, owned by billionaire Elon Musk of Tesla, and aeronautics company Boeing are set to bring astronauts to the International Space Station. This mission requires speeds of over Mach 30, 30 times the speed of sound. Virgin Galactic has focused on suborbital flights because they require less fuel, energy, and infrastructure than orbital flights, making them much cheaper to conduct. According to Branson, their dream (of space tourism) is “months not years” from becoming a reality, at which point a 90-minute flight will cost $250,000. (FAI)

One of the company’s original staff, Burt Rutan is very accomplished in the aeronautics field. Rutan won the elusive X Prize, a famous contest held by entrepreneur Pete Diamandis who announced he would award 10 million dollars to the first private citizen who sent a manned vehicle into space twice in a single week. The company has much-accomplished staff and is currently ahead of the race when it comes to smaller-scale space tourism.




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