Former British Olympian Jon Goodwin has become the first paying customer to fly to space aboard a flight chartered by Sir Richard Branson’s firm Virgin Galactic.
Goodwin, 80 – who has been living with Parkinson’s disease for almost a decade and spent $250,000 for a ticket – said farewells to his family before boarding the firm’s ‘spaceplane’ in New Mexico.
Goodwin was joined by Antiguan mother and daughter duo Keisha Schahaff, 46, and Anastatia Mayers, 18, who won free tickets for the once-in-a-lifetime commercial trip.
The three were pictured together prior to liftoff from the company’s Spaceport America launch facility at around 8:30am local time (3:30pm BST).
They enjoyed spectacular views of Earth aboard the 60-foot-long spaceplane before returning to New Mexico around an hour later.
The family of space tourist Jon Goodwin, an 80-year-old British adventurer and former Olympian, from right, wife Pauline, son David, grandson Sebastian, son Paul and daughter-in-law Lily watch toward the tarmac of Spaceport America, New Mexico
Jon Goodwin is pictured with mother and daughter Keisha Schahaff (right) and Anastatia Mayers (left) before boarding their Virgin Galactic flight at Spaceport America
Goodwin’s wife Pauline told the BBC at the launch site that she felt emotional and proud of her husband of 50 years.
His 11-year-old grandson also said he was very proud of him, describing the experience as ‘wow’.
Branson tweeted to say he was in Antigua watching the launch with Keisha’s mother (and Anastatia’s grandmother) Florence.
The six people on board included three Virgin Galactic employees – Commander Frederick Sturckow, Pilot Kelly Latimer, and Astronaut instructor Beth Moses.
Goodwin, the only one of the three tourists to pay for his seat, competed in the 1972 Munich Games as a slalom canoeist.
He also won gold in the Arctic Canoe Race in 1985 and has climbed up Mount Kilimanjaro.
Goodwin – who was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease in 2014 – made his trip to space 18 years after reportedly spending $250,000 (£194,500) to secure his seat.
Since his diagnosis he has been dedicated to raising awareness for Parkinson’s and the importance of research into finding a cure – and hopes that taking part in this mission will help shine a spotlight on the condition.
The other two tourists making up the team were mother-daughter duo from Antigua, Keisha Schahaff and Anastasia Mayers, an 18-year-old student at Aberdeen University.
Goodwin is a former Olympic canoeist who competed in the Olympic Games in Munich in 1972
Goodwin, from Newcastle, also won gold in the Arctic Canoe Race in 1985. He is pictured left
Space tourist Jon Goodwin, an 80-year-old British Olympian, waves to the crowd before boarding today
Branson posted a photo to Twitter hugging Keisha’s mother (and Anastatia’s grandmother) Florence
Mother Keisha, who said she was ‘not nervous at all’ about the trip, won a sweepstakes with Omaze, a US for-profit fundraising company, for the once-in-a-lifetime commercial trip.
Daughter Anastasia is studying philosophy and physics at Aberdeen University and wants to become an astrobiologist.
At 18, she has become the second youngest person to travel to space, following Oliver Daemen, who flew aboard a Blue Origin rocket at 18 in July 2021.
Galactic 02 is an early milestone in a burgeoning industry called ‘space tourism’, where members of the public have the opportunity to go into orbit just for pleasure of the experience.
However, each ticket costs thousands –reportedly up to $450,000 (£352,000) a ticket – and the experience is at the moment limited to the very rich (or, in the case of Keisha and her daughter, lucky).
Several of Virgin Galactic’s ticket holders have been waiting nearly 20 years for their trip, including Goodwin, who hails from Newcastle.
MailOnline witnessed the departure of the ‘spaceplane’ carrying the team of six at around 8:30am local time (3:30pm BST) from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
But it was more like a commercial plane lifting off from a runway than a ‘classic’ vertical rocket launch that you might expect from NASA or SpaceX.
Virgin Galactic uses a carrier aircraft called White Knight Two with two pilots who take off from a runway and then gain high altitude.
VSS Unity was deployed from its parent vehicle at around 9:20am local time (4:20pm BST), going around around 1,000 mph shortly after release
The tourists soon after undid their seatbelts and were able to enjoy weightlessness as they stared at the vastness of space through the windows
Pictured, Anastasia Mayers stares dumfounded out the window. At 18, she becomes the second youngest person to travel to space
The mother and daughter won their tickets, while Jon Goodwin, paid $250,000 (£191,000) for his ticket to space back in 2005
Keisha Schahaff with her daughter Anastatia Mayers. They are set to board VSS Unity for a 90-minute trip into space on August 10. Keisha has said she was ‘not nervous at all’ about the trip on Virgin Galactic’s first space tourism flight
At 18, she will be the second youngest person to travel to space, following Oliver Daemen, who flew aboard a Blue Origin rocket at 18 in July 2021
When at just under 10 miles high (50,000 feet), White Knight Two releases its rocket-powered crewed spaceplane VSS Unity, which ignites its rocket motor and soars even higher.
VSS Unity is able to reach the boundary of space as defined by the US Air Force and NASA by going over 50 miles (80.5 km) above sea level.
However, it is unable to go above the Kármán line, the space boundary of 62.1 miles (100km), as defined by international record-keeping body the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale (FAI).
The plane shuts off once it reaches its highest point, providing passengers with silence, weightlessness and an aerial view of Earth.
Once the rocket motor shuts down, passengers can unbuckle their seatbelts and enjoy the weightless feeling of zero gravity.
The spaceship has 17 windows, providing ‘an incredible view of planet Earth’ for passengers as they float by for a few precious minutes.
Once VSS Unity has re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere, it glides back to the runway it took off from, giving passengers ‘a smooth and comfortable end to their thrilling ride’, the company says.
VSS Unity was deployed from its parent vehicle at around 9:20am local time (4:20pm BST), going around around 1,000 mph shortly after release.
The tourists soon after undid their seatbelts and were able to enjoy weightlessness as they stared at the vastness of space through the windows.
Branson speaks at a news conference after flying with a crew in Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity to the edge of space, July 11, 2021
Pictured, White Knight Two carrying the rocket-powered crewed spaceplane VSS Unity in February 2020
How it works: This graphic shows how VSS Unity takes passengers to the edge of space. Virgin Galactic has adopted a revolutionary system that enables VSS Unity to act like both a winged vehicle or a capsule depending on which is more useful at different stages of re-entry
The spaceplane called VSS Unity (pictured) is released from a carrier aircraft when they’re around 10 miles from the Earth’s surface
Once released, VSS Unity (which is carrying the passengers) ignites its rocket motor and soars even higher (pictured)
Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, is hoping to finally get the nascent space tourism industry off the ground
Galactic 02 follows Galactic 01, which successfully reached orbit at the end of June.
Virgin Galactic has referred to Galactic 01 as the firm’s first ‘commercial flight’, but it was a research mission and there were no paying customers aboard.
Galactic 01 carried astronauts from the Italian Air Force and the Italian National Research Council plus Virgin Galactic crew 52.9 miles above Earth.
Richard Branson himself made the same trip along with five crewmates in July 2021 – which the founder called an ‘experience of a lifetime’.
The flamboyant billionaire, who was 70 at the time, became the second oldest person to travel to space after 77-year-old John Glenn in 1998.
Virgin Galactic plans monthly flights to space after the Galactic 02 launch to ensure paying customers get their reward as soon as possible.
The firm is yet to reveal who will fly on Galactic 03 or when exactly it will happen, as a lot depends on the success of today’s launch.
How Virgin tycoon Richard Branson built his multi-billion empire
The Virgin brand took off with Virgin Records in 1972.
The tycoon Sir Richard Branson is the founder and chair of the Virgin Group, which employs over 60,000 people in 35 countries through its 40 plus companies.
The empire burgeoned in the 1960’s, as a 16-year-old Branson launched his magazine, called Student, which interviewed celebrities and sold almost $8,000 worth of advertising for the first issue.
Following this, he dropped out of school to promote the magazine and in 1970, launched Virgin Mail Order Records.
He used the profits from his record store chain to found music label Virgin Records in 1972, and he earned his first million dollars in 1973 when Virgin recording artist Mike Oldfield sold over 5 million copies of his record, ‘Tubular Bells.’
Other notable artists to record with Virgin Records include the Sex Pistols, the Human League and XTC, who were filmed at the label’s ‘The Manor’ studios in Oxfordshire with Branson as part of a 1980 documentary.
Sir Richard Branson (pictured here in New York City in 2011) owns the Virgin empire that originally started as a record shop
In the 1980s, Branson launched Virgin Book, Virgin Video and Virgin Atlantic, which took off due to its first-class service, free ice cream, video screens and in-flight massages.
In 1992, Branson reluctantly sold Virgin Records for $1 billion in order to keep Virgin Atlantic afloat during a tumultuous period for the venture – including a climate of fear pulsed on by terrorist attacks.
In 2001, Virgin Group launched Virgin Mobile as a joint venture with Sprint.
Virgin Galactic was launched in September 2004 alongside Burt Rutan, an American aeronautical engineer. Branson’s vision was of cheap space tourism.
Branson has four space-focused companies now. In addition to Virgin Galactic, Virgin also operates Virgin Orbit for cargo, VOX for government missions, and the Spaceship Company, which as the name implies, builds spaceships.