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Virgin Galactic reaches space for first time

Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, has landed in the Mojave Desert, California, following her maiden spaceflight.

Not only is this the first human spaceflight to be launched from American soil since the final Space Shuttle mission in 2011, but the very first time that a crewed vehicle built for commercial, passenger service, has reached space.

The vehicle was greeted on its return to cheers from Richard Branson and the teams from Virgin Galactic and the Spaceship Company.

The achievement has been recognised by the Federal Aviation Administration who announced that early next year they will present pilots Mark Stucky and Frederick Sturckow with FAA Commercial Astronaut Wings at a ceremony in Washington.

Sturckow, as a four-time Space Shuttle pilot, will become the only person to have been awarded NASA and FAA wings.

The spaceflight, which was witnessed by a large crowd of staff and their families, as well as special guests and media, saw a 60 second planned rocket motor burn which propelled VSS Unity to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles.

As VSS Unity coasted upwards through the black sky and into space, Virgin Galactic Mission Control confirmed the news and congratulated the two astronaut pilots: “Unity, welcome to space”.

Commenting from the flight line Branson said: “Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally.

“Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder.

“We started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge.

“Today, as I stood among a truly remarkable group of people with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled.

“It was an indescribable feeling: joy, relief, exhilaration and anticipation for what is yet to come.”

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