Once upon a time, outer space travel for the public was left mostly to the science fiction section of Barnes and Noble. Now, there’s a race to see which company will be the first to get their space tourism program up and running.
Approximately sixteen months ago, people thought Virgin Galactic was going to be the first company to bring tourists up into space.
Virgin Galactic had their first space ship up and running. They were conducting test flights and had high hopes for the time-line of their tourism program. Unfortunately, tragedy struck.
In October of 2014, as pilots were conducting the 55th test flight of the Virgin Galactic space ship, Enterprise, the air craft crashed into the Mojave Desert. The pilot, Pete Siebold, was badly injured and the co-pilot, Michael Alsbury, was killed.
An investigation into the reason for the crash began, and Virgin Galactic would have suffered a significant setback if there was something wrong with the air craft itself. When the results were in, officials found out that it had been human error that caused the crash.
Virgin Galactic CEO, George Whitesides, told Reuters that the investigation revealed that the pilot had accidentally unlocked the feathering mechanism on the air craft’s tail.
The feathering mechanism is designed to create aerodynamic drag to slow the air craft as it returns to Earth, making the landing safer and easier for tourists to handle. Engaged at the wrong time, however, the feather system prevents the air craft from achieving and maintaining the speed necessary to stay aloft.
With the results allowing for Virgin Galactic to continue on in their attempt to bring outer space tourism into reality, they started going over their plans and attempting to make their air craft safer.
The result is their second air craft, Unity, which was named by scientific giant Stephen Hawking.
Stephen Hawking was unable to attend the unveiling, but issued a four minute, pre-recording message for the Virgin Galactic gathering.
“We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity. Space exploration has already been a great unifier — we seem able to cooperate between nations in space in a way we can only envy on Earth. Taking more and more passengers out into space will enable them and us to look both outwards and back, but with a fresh perspective in both directions. It will help bring new meaning to our place on Earth and to our responsibilities as its stewards, and it will help us to recognize our place and our future in the cosmos — which is where I believe our ultimate destiny lies.”
Founder of the Virgin group, Sir Richard Branson, explained to Forbes how inspired he, and Virgin Galactic as a whole, were by Hawking.
“We felt strongly that we should somehow make sure that Stephen remained a permanent part of Unity’s story, because so much of what he stands for resonates with what we at Virgin Galactic aspire to be. So the Galactic Girl on the side of our proud Spaceship Unity now carries a banner using an image of Stephen’s eye.”
The new Virgin Galactic space ship, Unity, looks almost identical to the Enterprise model. In fact, the design itself was left mostly alone. Virgin simply looked over the safety aspects and altered them to account more for human error. Most notably, they added a pin to prevent a pilot from making the same mistake that was made on the Enterprise.
Stephen Hawking’s ticket on the Virgin Galactic space ship, Unity, was free, but the company is selling tickets to others at the price of $250,000 per person. Roughly 700 people have already booked their seats.
[Image via Wikimedia Commons/Public Domain]