Watching Virgin Galactic fly back to space

Astronauts on board Virgin Galactic's Unity 25 flight to space
Virgin Galactic
Virgin Galactic
Richard Branson's signature
Published on 25 May 2023

How wonderful to be on the flightline to watch Virgin Galactic fly back to space on the Unity 25 mission. Huge congratulations to all the team and especially Mission Specialists Jamila Gilbert, Christopher Huie, and Luke Mays on becoming the newest Virgin Galactic Astronauts.

We were up very early to get to the majestic Spaceport America for VSS Unity’s 25th mission. I enjoyed a special moment surprising Jamila and Chuie in the Land Rover driving them out to the spaceship. I opened the door for them, and we had a big hug. I also got two of our engineers to lend me their torches, turned them on and literally "passed the torch" onto our newest astronauts. Now Jamila and Chuie can hand them onto the next people who fly to space with us, and a new tradition has begun.

Christopher Huie - Virgin Galactic astronaut in space
Virgin Galactic

I offered a few words of advice – mainly just to enjoy the moment, relax and be sure to savour looking back at Earth from space. They were very well-prepared and ready to go. They even composed a song on the way to the spaceship and we were singing along. Chuie is very into numbers, and talked about how this was the 25th VSS Unity flight on 5/25, on the 50th anniversary of Tubular Bells release – a very special day for Virgin.

Mike Oldfield (left) and Richard Branson in The Manor recording studio in the 1970s
Virgin Group

As well as Jamila, Chuie and Luke, my wonderful spaceflight cabin-mate Beth Moses was on-board, while VSS Unity was piloted by Commander Mike Masucci and Pilot CJ Sturckow, with mothership VMS Eve piloted by Commander Jameel Janjua and Pilot Nicola Pecile. A big well done to all.

Being at Spaceport America brought back so many memories of my own flight to space, and excitement for all of the Virgin Galactic astronauts to come. Just watching it with all the team was amazing, we had the most spectacular view of the spaceship shooting straight up into space with the stunning mountain backdrop. It was so wonderful to see. I didn't cry on the day I flew to space – today I did! I was strangely much more emotional watching on from the ground.

Richard Branson onboard Unity 22
Virgin Galactic

One of the most thrilling parts of Virgin Galactic’s mission is how our astronauts will inspire more people to look to the stars. Jamila became one of the first 100 women and one of 16 Hispanic and Latinx people to go to space - plus she flew to space just an hour from the street she grew up on. Chuie became one of the first 20 Black people who have gone to space. As he said after the flight:

This is just the beginning, and I look forward to continuing to push boundaries with Virgin Galactic and shine a spotlight on the doors that commercial space travel can open for innovation.

Virgin Galactic's spaceship in space
Virgin Galactic

I do want to take a moment to thank the team at our other space company, Virgin Orbit. After four successful missions - with 33 satellites launched to their precise, desired orbit – Virgin Orbit’s journey is coming to an end. We invested more than $1 billion into Virgin Orbit, and the brilliant team created something unique. While the outcome is not what we hoped for, we’re proud of what the team achieved, and glad the innovation we invested in and created will carry on in the hands of its buyers in the space sector.

Head over to Virgin Galactic’s new website and follow on social for all the latest footage from Unity 25 and for news on Galactic 01. Here’s to another 50 years of Virgin firsts.