Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic sent a handful of tourists, including a former British Olympian and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean, to the edge of space on Thursday.
The feat marks Branson’s first customer flight – after years of delays – and means Virgin Galactic can now begin offering monthly rides, joining Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX in the space tourism business.
“It was by far the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” passenger Jon Goodwin told the crowd waiting for the spaceplane’s return to Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.
Goodwin. An 89-year-old athlete who competed in the 1972 Canoe Olympics was among the first to buy a ticket in 2005.
Back then, ticket prices were $200,000. Now the cost has increased to as much as $450,000.
Godwin, who has Parkinson’s disease, was accompanied on the flight by sweepstakes winner Keisha Schahaff, 46, a health coach from Antigua, and her daughter Anastatia Mayers, 18, a student at Scotland’s University of Aberdeen.
The mother-daughter duo high-fived and clenched their fists as the spaceport crowd cheered their return.
“A childhood dream has come true,” said Schahaff. Her daughter added: “I’m at a loss for words. The only thought I had the whole time was ‘Wow!’”
According to the Associated PressWith Virgin Galactic’s astronaut trainer and one of the two pilots, the flight marked the first time there were more women than men on a spaceflight, four to two.
The rocket ship’s leg of flight lasted about 15 minutes and reached an altitude of 55 miles. The flight marked Virgin Galactic’s seventh voyage into space since 2018, albeit the first with a ticket holder.
In 2021, Branson, the company’s founder, jumped on board for the first full-size crew ride.
Italian military and government researchers flew on the first commercial flight in June. According to the company, there are currently about 800 people on Virgin Galactic’s waiting list.
After Thursday’s trip, Branson tweeted: “Today we flew three incredible private passengers into space: Keisha Schahaff, Anastatia Mayers and Jon Goodwin. Congratulations @VirginGalactic, commercial astronauts 011, 012 and 013 – welcome to the club!”
A few months ago, Branson held a virtual lottery to win the company’s first 50 customers — known as Founding Astronauts. Virgin Galactic said the group agreed Goodwin would take first place given his age and Parkinson’s disease.
Like Virgin Galactic, Bezos’ Blue Origin flies to the edge of space from West Texas. The rocket ship has carried 31 people into space so far, but flights are suspended after a crash last fall.
Musk’s SpaceX is the only private company that carries customers all the way to orbit at a much higher price — tens of millions of dollars per seat. SpaceX’s biggest customer, NASA, has relied on the spacecraft to fly astronauts to and from the International Space Station since 2020.