One of the greatest days in history is here, and the first flight for a paying ‘space tourist’ has taken off into space.
Hundreds of tickets have been sold since they were released by Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic firm more than a decade ago.
Some buyers have shelled out as much as $450,000 for the chance to get into suborbit.
Six crew members, three of whom are tourists, have made history after being launched from New Mexico into orbit.
But who are the crew on board the VSS Unity space plane? And who are the three tourists among them?
British Olympian Jon Goodwin (centre) joins mother and daughter Keisha Schahaff (right) and Anastatia Mayers (left) as the three tourists at VSS Unity this week
VSS Unity (pictured) is Virgin Galactic’s spaceplane used for commercial spaceflight. It first arrived in US-defined space (50+ miles) in December 2018.
Who are Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers?
Two of the tourists that make up the crew are mother-daughter duo Keisha Schahaff and Anastasia Mayers.
Wellness coach Schahaff, along with her student from the University of Aberdeen, will be the first Caribbean people to travel to space according to People. Mayers, 18, will also become the second youngest person to go into space.
The youngest person to enter orbit was 18-year-old Oliver Daemen in July 2021 via the Blue Origin rocket.
Ms Schahaff was flying via Virgin Atlantic from Antigua to London when an ad appeared for a competition for the trip.
She explained that shortly after this she entered the Omaze giveaway, received messages informing her that she was in the top 20 finalists, then in the top five, and finally the winner of the entire competition.
Schahaff told the BBC: ‘Suddenly, who is breaking into my yard? Ricardo Branson. The whole team swarmed into my house saying ‘you’re the winner, you’re going to space’.
The raffle raised $1.7 million for the charity Space for Humanity, which intends to make space more accessible, afrotech reports.
Ms Mayers, who is a second-year philosophy and physics student, attributed her incredible luck in receiving the two free tickets, worth up to $450,000 (£350,000) each, to her decision to study in Scotland.
The aspiring astrobiologist said the big move to Aberdeen “led to magnificent things happening.”
He hopes that there will be support for the big event, and that it will break the barriers that society imposes on them.
Schahaff stated: ‘For me and my daughter together, it’s more than a dream come true.
“This is my daughter, I love her with all my heart, and to know that we both share the same goal, the same dream, that’s super amazing.”
Keisha Schahaff, 46, and her daughter Anastasia Mayers, 18, (pictured), will be the first mother and daughter to take a trip to space after winning both tickets worth up to $450,000
After winning the sweepstakes, Ms. Schahaff said that Richard Branson and company filled her house with that magic phrase: “You are the winner, you are going to space.”
Jon Goodwin, 80, will be the second person with Parkinson’s disease to go into space. He will be the first Olympian
Who is Jon Goodwin?
Among the three tourists aboard the historic flight is British Olympian Jon Goodwin. He competed as a slalom canoeist at the 1972 Munich Olympics.
Virgin Galactic flights
Price of admission: $450,000 (£360,000)
Departs from: Spaceport America, New Mexico
The hard experience: 90 minutes
Cost per minute: £4,000
Can you float? Alone, about 5 minutes of weightlessness.
Good views? There are 17 windows to take a look at the Earth.
Altitude: 50 miles (80km)
Craft: Space Plane VSS Unity
Passengers: Up to 6 plus 2 pilots
He will be the first Olympian to make the trip to outer space.
Since receiving his Parkinson’s diagnosis, the 80-year-old from Newcastle has been passionate about raising awareness of the disease and researching a cure.
He will be the second person with Parkinson’s to go into space according to Virgin.
But the out-of-this-world trip isn’t the only adventurous outing the former Olympian has had since his diagnosis in 2014.
He said: “From becoming an Olympian to canoeing between the peaks of Annapurna, winning a six-day race in the Arctic Circle, climbing Mount Kilimanjaro (and cycling back down again), I have always enjoyed facing new challenges”.
The father-of-two told BBC Breakfast the feeling of being on the brink of a trip he bought 18 years ago for $250,000 (£194,500) was “completely surreal”, adding that it was the “icing on the cake” of a life full of ‘exciting things’
He explained that he was “grateful” that Virgin Galactic allowed him to take part in the flight, as the athlete feared that his diagnosis might prevent him from doing so.
He also added that his wife is “totally supportive” of his adventures, while his two sons won’t think his suborbital journey into space is unusual.
He said: ‘It was just to get the chance to do something very few people have done: more people have climbed Everest than have gone into space.
“So, I’m hesitant about certain things, since there’s no bathroom on this rocket ship, I have to go back to wearing diapers that I can’t remember the last time I wore a diaper.”
Beth Moses, Frederick Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will be Virgin Galactic staff guiding the three tourists.
Who else is on the Galactic 02 crew?
Among the three tourists, there will be a very experienced crew. This includes Virgin’s lead astronaut, Beth Moses, who will be on the flight.
She became the first woman in history to travel on a commercial spacecraft on the company’s Galactic 01 flight.
He is also in charge of training Schahaff, Mayers, and Goodwin for the trip. This will be his fourth suborbital trip with Virgin Galactic, according to space.com.
In the VSS Unity cockpit will be Pilot Kelly Latimer and Commander Frederick Sturckow, who also goes by CJ.
Both have several years of experience as pilots for Virgin Galactic and NASA.
Latimer was part of the cockpit of Virgin Galactic’s satellite launch in 2021. This was the company’s first successful launch of its kind.
He has also been a research pilot at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center. At this facility he spent countless hours flying various aircraft.
Stuckrow is just as experienced as Latimer, with four space shuttle missions already under his belt. He also participated in the first shuttle flight of the International Space Station: STS-88.
He had been an astronaut since 1995, but then he hung up his uniform and retired in 2013.
But his retirement was short-lived, as the experienced astronaut signed up with Virgin Galactic the same year. Like Ms. Moses, he too worked on Galactic Flight 01.
Regarding the historic journey, Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic, said:
“This flight highlights two of Virgin Galactic’s greatest aspirations: to increase access to space and to inspire people around the world.
“Each of these astronauts are role models and beacons of inspiration in their communities.
“Watching Keisha, Ana and Jon embark on this transformative experience helps demonstrate that space is now opening up to a broader and more diverse population around the world.”