Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, received her commercial astronaut wings from the Federal Aviation Administration yesterday (April 9), making her the first woman to earn the honor.
Moses was a "test passenger" aboard Virgin Galactic's second spaceflight on Feb. 22, which soared to an altitude of 55.87 miles (89.9 kilometers). The three-person flight team, which also included chief pilot Dave Mackay and lead pilot trainer Mike "Sooch" Masucci, received their commercial wings together, becoming the fifth, sixth and seventh people to receive these wings.
Moses' job during the brief microgravity portion of her flight was to evaluate how future space tourists would feel and to move around the cabin while feeling weightless. She later said in a video that she spent part of this time "spidermanning along the ceiling."
"Once the rocket motor cut off, they cleared me to unstrap from my seat, and I unstrapped from my seat, evaluated various aspects of the cabin, and then strapped back in for entry. And it all went smoothly and just according to timeline," she said in the same video clip.
Virgin Galactic is preparing for passenger flights by conducting test runs of its spacecraft, the VSS Unity. The vehicle first breached the U.S. Air Force-defined boundary of space on Dec. 13, reaching an altitude of 51.4 miles (87.4 km). Both of Unity's spaceflights are still below the Karman line, which the International Astronautical Federation uses to define the start of space, at 62 miles (100 km).
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has said he hopes to fly on July 16, 2019, the 50th anniversary of the launch of Apollo 11, the first mission to land humans on the moon. After Branson, there are hundreds more people waiting in line to experience microgravity and see the curvature of Earth. Tickets currently retail for $250,000 apiece.
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- In Photos: Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity Aces 2nd Powered Test Flight
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Elizabeth Howell (she/her), Ph.D., is a staff writer in the spaceflight channel since 2022 covering diversity, education and gaming as well. She was contributing writer for Space.com for 10 years before joining full-time. Elizabeth's reporting includes multiple exclusives with the White House and Office of the Vice-President of the United States, an exclusive conversation with aspiring space tourist (and NSYNC bassist) Lance Bass, speaking several times with the International Space Station, witnessing five human spaceflight launches on two continents, flying parabolic, working inside a spacesuit, and participating in a simulated Mars mission. Her latest book, "Why Am I Taller?", is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University and a Bachelor of History from Canada's Athabasca University. Elizabeth is also a post-secondary instructor in communications and science at several institutions since 2015; her experience includes developing and teaching an astronomy course at Canada's Algonquin College (with Indigenous content as well) to more than 1,000 students since 2020. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday. Mastodon: https://qoto.org/@howellspace