Virgin Galactic set to launch Galactic 05 mission with research duo on Nov. 2 (Image Credit: Space.com)
Virgin Galactic is set to take off on its fifth commercial spaceflight since it began the service last summer.
Galactic 05 is scheduled to lift off from Spaceport America in New Mexico on Thursday (Nov. 2) at around 9 a.m. MDT (10 a.m. EDT; 1400 GMT).
The mission will carry three passengers as well as Virgin Galactic crew aboard the VSS Unity space plane on a suborbital mission, on which cabin occupants will experience several minutes of weightlessness at the edge of space.
Whether or not the passenger names for each flight are made public is a decision made between those ticket-holders and Virgin Galactic, and not every passenger over the last few months has opted to have their name published before their flight. For Galactic 05, two of the three passengers’ names were released earlier in October, and the pair happen to already be well known in the space industry.
Alan Stern is a planetary scientist and vice president of the Space Science Division at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) in Boulder, Colorado. He has been involved in several NASA research missions throughout his career and currently serves as principal investigator of the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt.
That one famous picture of Pluto you’ve seen, which stars the dwarf planet’s famous heart-shaped feature? Alan Stern is a major reason that photo exists.
Flying alongside Stern inside VSS Unity’s crew cabin will be Kellie Gerardi. Everything in Gerardi’s life has led her to this first flight to space — and she hopes it will be the first of many.
Gerardi has worked as a researcher in the aeronautics industry throughout the span of her career. She is a missions operations lead at Palantir Technologies, a payload specialist at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) and a social media STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) influencer with a following of nearly 700,000. Through her online presence, she has created a great deal of educational content that has been viewed by millions, and she has authored three books about space.
Stern and Gerardi’s missions were each sponsored by their respective organizations, both of which are focused on research. Their primary objectives during Galactic 05 will be to complete a series of experiments that each will be conducting inside the short window of weightlessness during the apogee of their flight.
L-1 and counting! We are on schedule to take the #Galactic05 crew and their research to space tomorrow, November 2. This mission will once again convert VSS Unity into a suborbital science lab. pic.twitter.com/kzVkOUaKpUNovember 1, 2023
The third private passenger was not named in Virgin Galactic’s release, but was specified as someone of Franco-Italian nationality. A Virgin Galactic astronaut instructor, Colin Bennett, will fly inside VSS Unity’s cabin with the trio, with mission commander Mike Masucci and pilot Kelly Latimer at the controls in the cockpit.
Photos: The first space tourists
Unity’s flight to space begins on the runway at Spaceport America. The space plane stows between the dual cockpits of its carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, commanded and piloted for Galactic 05 by Jameel Janjua and Andy Edgell, respectively. At around 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) in altitude, VSS Unity is released from Eve to burn its rocket motor and complete its climb to space.
Following their short stint on the top of the world, VSS Unity and its crew will return for a landing back at the runway at Spaceport America, followed shortly after by VMS Eve.
Virgin Galactic has not livestreamed its missions since Galactic 02, and now only posts mission updates through the company’s X account, formerly known as Twitter. Thursday’s flight is expected to begin at approximately 9 a.m. MDT (10 a.m. ET/1400 GMT). From liftoff to landing, Galactic 05 will likely last around 1.5 hours.