Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Travels into Space (Sorta)

Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Travels into Space (Sorta)

Depending on who you talk to, this was either a big deal or another near-miss.

Virgin Galactic just made its third successful test flight with the VSS Unity, a SpaceShipTwo model. Launching this past Saturday from Spaceport American in New Mexico, the vessel reached a top speed of Mach 3 and 55.45 miles above sea level.

That altitude puts it squarely within the U.S. Air Force and NASA’s definition of “space” (50 miles) though it fell a tad short of the Kármán line (62 miles), which is defined by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI) and is the commonly-accepted global delineation.

For his part, Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson was unequivocally certain about their accomplishment:

“Fifteen years ago, New Mexico embarked on a journey to create the world’s first commercial spaceport,’’ he said. ‘’Today, we launched the first human spaceflight from that very same place, marking an important milestone for both Virgin Galactic and New Mexico.”

Of course, even by the Air Force and NASA definition, this wasn’t the first time a Virgin Galactic craft reached “space” – back in 2019, SpaceShipTwo’s second test flight (and the first with a human passenger) climbed to the 56-mile mark.

For that matter, this wasn’t even the first space tourist or the first time a full crew of astronauts flew using a rocket-capsule system made by a private company – those milestones belong to Dennis Tito, an American engineer and entrepreneur who paid $20 million to fly to the International Space Station aboard the Soyuz TM-32 back in 2001, and the crew of the “Resilience,” which flew to the ISS using a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket last November.

But the more private industry becomes intertwined with space travel, the closer we come to President Nixon’s then-prediction for the nascent Space Shuttle of “normalizing” the enterprise.

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