Virgin Galactic's first spaceflight

The view from a Virgin Galactic spaceship looking down on earth
Image from Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 13 December 2018

Today, for the first time in history, a crewed spaceship, built to carry private paying passengers, reached space. Watching on from the flight line with the incredible Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company teams was one of the proudest moments of my life.

Many of you will know how important the dream of space travel is to me personally and to all of us here today. Ever since I watched the moon landings as a child I have looked up to the skies with wonder. I started Virgin nearly 50 years ago dreaming big and loving a challenge. Today, as I stood among this truly remarkable group of people, all of us with our eyes on the stars, we saw our biggest dream and our toughest challenge to date fulfilled. How on earth do I describe the feeling? Joy? Definitely! Relief? Emphatically! Exhilaration? Absolutely! But because I have a tendency to keep pushing forward – eager and impatient anticipation for everything yet to come.

Richard Branson and Sam Branson celebrate with a crowd during Virgin Galactic's first spaceflight
Image from Greg Rose

SpaceShipTwo reached space with two new private pilot new private astronauts – our brilliant pilots Mark “Forger” Stucky and Frederick “CJ” Sturckow - on board. A 60 second planned rocket motor burn propelled SpaceShipTwo to almost three times the speed of sound and to an apogee of 51.4 miles. After a supersonic atmospheric re-entry, utilising SpaceShipTwo’s unique “feathering” configuration, our pilot astronauts and spaceship received an emotional homecoming welcome as they arrived safely back on earth. 

View from the window of Virgin Galactic in space
Image from Virgin Galactic

SpaceShipTwo is now the first crewed vehicle built for commercial service to reach space. (With due credit of course to the amazing SpaceShipOne prototype for paving the way.) It was wonderful to have the Federal Aviation Administration with us on stage to acknowledge today’s achievement and announce that in Washington next year they will present Forger and CJ with their private astronaut wings.

And we were delighted to carry NASA research payloads which meant we that this was our first revenue generating flight.  It was an honour to have NASA Armstrong Center Director David Mcbride join us to congratulate the researchers on getting to space via the agency’s Flight Opportunities program.

View of Earth from VSS Unity
Image from Virgin Galactic

This has been the ultimate team effort to get this far, so it was only fitting that so many of our employees and their families were present to see history made. Today we have shown that Virgin Galactic really can open space to change the world for good.

Richard and Sam Branson on the flightline for the first spaceflight
Image from Greg Rose

We will now push on with the remaining portion of our flight test program, which will see the rocket motor burn for longer and SpaceShipTwo fly still faster and higher towards her and our goal of creating thousands of private astronauts from every corner of the globe. This is a momentous day and I could not be more proud of our teams, who together have opened a new chapter of space exploration.