AP – Virgin Galactic completed what is expected to be its final test flight on Thursday before taking paying customers on brief trips to space, marking what the space tourism company described as a “fantastic achievement” in what has been a long road to commercial operations.
Six of the company’s employees, including two pilots, landed at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico after the short up-and-down flight that included a few minutes of weightlessness. It took about an hour for the mother ship to carry the spaceplane to an altitude of 44,500 feet, where it was released and fired its rocket motor to make the final push.
“Successful boost, WE HAVE REACHED SPACE!” Virgin Galactic tweeted. It reached an altitude of 54.2 miles before gliding back down to the runway, according to the company.
Jamila Gilbert, who grew up in southern New Mexico and leads the company’s internal communications, was among those on board who were evaluating what it will be like for paying customers.
It was hard for her to put the experience into words, saying it probably will take a lifetime to process the sights and the feelings that filled those moments between the rocket igniting and the spaceship reaching its highest point.
“It was just this magnetic pull,” she said in an interview. “Once I started looking out, I could feel that I was floating. I could hear voices. But I couldn’t stop looking at the planet, and I couldn’t look away.”