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Virgin Galactic sends 2 pilots and 4 passengers to the edge of space and back

Two pilots, a Turkish research astronaut and three private citizens went to space and returned on Saturday. Virgin GalacticThey enjoyed spectacular views of Earth from their Unity spacecraft and experienced nearly three minutes of weightlessness before landing back in New Mexico.

It was the company's 12th piloted up-and-down sub-orbital flight, its seventh with a paying customer, and the final flight of Unity as Virgin develops its more capable Delta spaceships, which are expected to begin commercial operations in 2026.

Virgin Galactic's Unity rocket plane, carrying two pilots and four passengers, including Turkey's second professional astronaut, has blasted out of the lower atmosphere and reached the edge of space on the company's seventh commercial spaceflight.

Virgin Galactic

Unity, with veteran pilots Nicola Pecile and novice Jamil Janjua at the controls, was flown from Spaceport America in New Mexico by Virgin Galactic’s twin-fuselage ferry ship, Eve, taking off at 10:31 a.m. Eastern time.

Following Virgin's standard flight plan, the carrier jet released the spacecraft an hour later at an altitude of 44,500 feet. Pesil and Janjua then ignited the spacecraft's hybrid rocket motor to begin a supersonic climb out of the dense lower atmosphere.

A few minutes later, traveling at about three times the speed of sound, the engine shut down and passengers floated in the cabin and marveled at the view. Unity reached an altitude of 54.4 miles, just over the 50-mile altitude considered the “boundary” of space by NASA and the U.S. military.

Peshil and Janjua were joined on Virgin's second flight this year by Giorgio Manenti of Italy, Irving Pergament of New York, Anand Sadhwani of California and Tuva Atasever, the second Turkish astronaut to go to space.

Atasever was sponsored by Axiom Space of Houston to conduct microgravity research to learn more about the effects of weightlessness. This was the first sub-orbital flight for Axiom, which sent 12 commercial astronauts to the International Space Station over three missions, including Turkey's first astronaut, Alper Gezravci.

Turkish astronaut Tuva Atasever (left) shares her excitement with three space tourists as they enjoy a few moments of weightlessness aboard Virgin Galactic's Unity spacecraft.

Virgin Galactic

“As a country, this will take our space research to the next level and hopefully provide knowledge and inspiration to the next generations,” Atasevar said on Friday.

Shortly after Unity reached the top of its trajectory, all four passengers settled back into their seats and began the long flight back to Earth and landing on Spaceport America's 15,000-foot-long runway. The mission duration from takeoff to landing was about an hour.

“Congratulations to @AstroTuva for the successful mission!” Axiom said on social media platform X. “The research conducted during #Galactic07 contributes to Turkey’s scientific efforts in space, which is part of a larger effort to expand the country’s space exploration capabilities and establish a national human spaceflight program.”

“This was the final flight of Virgin's Unity spaceplane as the company transitions to the new Delta design. It was a wonderful and proud moment as we celebrate the ship's unprecedented achievements in human spaceflight and build momentum for the rollout of our first Delta-class ships in 2026,” Virgin CEO Michael Colglazier said in a web post.

With Saturday's flight, Virgin Galactic has so far flown 61 passengers and crew, including several who have flown more than once, on 12 sub-orbital spaceflights since the initial test flight in December 2018. The passenger list also includes company founder Richard Branson, who was on board for Saturday's flight.

Blue Origin, owned by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, also offers sub-orbital space flights using a more traditional ground-launched rocket and crew capsule called New Shepard. The fully automated spacecraft can carry up to six passengers at a time.

Blue Origin has launched 38 space tourists, including Bezos, since crewed flights began in July 2021.


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