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Virgin Galactic launches first tourist flight to space

Jose Luis Gonzalez | Reuters
  • Virgin Galactic flew its second commercial spaceflight Thursday.
  • Called Galactic 02, the flight launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
  • The three customers onboard Galactic 02 were British former Olympian Jon Goodwin and two passengers from the Caribbean, Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers.

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Virgin Galactic flew its second commercial spaceflight Thursday, its first carrying private-paying tourists.

Called Galactic 02, the flight launched from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The company's spacecraft was flown by a pair of pilots — CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer — and carried four other people, including Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, to oversee the mission from inside the cabin, and a trio of passengers.

The three customers onboard Galactic 02 were British former Olympian Jon Goodwin and two passengers from the Caribbean, Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, who won seats through a charity fundraising drawing by nonprofit Space for Humanity.

The flight takes customers past an altitude of 80 kilometers, or about 262,000 feet, which is what the U.S. recognizes as the boundary of space. The spacecraft returned to land at Spaceport America, completing the flight.

The mission is Virgin Galactic's seventh spaceflight to date and its third since May. The company aims to fly spacecraft VSS Unity at a rate of once a month and is developing a fleet of spacecraft called "Delta-class," planned to debut in 2026, to fly at a weekly rate.

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Virgin Galactic uses a two-step system known as "air launch" to fly its passengers on a suborbital spaceflight. 

This type of spaceflight gives passengers a couple of minutes of weightlessness, unlike the much longer, more difficult and more expensive private orbital flights conducted by Elon Musk's SpaceX. During Virgin Galactic's second-quarter earnings call, CEO Michael Colglazier addressed concerns about extreme tourism experiences in the wake of the Titan submersible tragedy earlier this year.

"We did not, in fact" see any fallout from Virgin Galactic customers, Colglazier said.

The company completed its first commercial spaceflight, the Galactic 01 mission, in June carrying members of the Italian Air Force.

Virgin Galactic has a backlog of about 800 passengers. Many of those tickets were sold at prices between $200,000 and $250,000 over a decade ago, but the company reopened ticket sales two years ago, with pricing beginning at $450,000 per seat.

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