Virgin Galactic is preparing for its fourth commercial spaceflight mission.
Galactic 04 will carry a three-person crew accompanied by the company's head astronaut instructor, as well as the two pilots at the helm of Virgin's SpaceShipTwo vehicle, VSS Unity. Their flight to the edge space is scheduled to take place on Friday, (Oct. 6).
The mission will take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico. VSS Unity and its crew will be brought to altitude by the spaceplane's double-cockpit carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, which will release VSS Unity at around 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). After release, a firing of VSS Unity's rocket motor will put it on a suborbital trajectory, bringing the space plane and crew to the edge of space for a few minutes of weightlessness and a great view of their home planet.
Galactic 04 is Virgin's fourth commercial mission in as many months, which keeps the company on track with its projected once-a-month flight cadence for VSS Unity. In contrast with the Virgin Galactic's first two commercial flights, the company did not release the names of the passengers for Galactic 03 and Galactic 04. However, the three passengers for Friday's upcoming mission were less guarded, and each excitedly announced his or her upcoming adventure on social media.
Namira Salim 019
Namira Salim will be Virgin Galactic's Astronaut 019. She is a world traveler, entrepreneur and artist with a diverse background in space engagement. Salim is one of Virgin Galactic's "Founder Astronauts," and was recognized by Virgin Group founder Richard Branson for her early contributions to the company's mission, according to Salim's website.
"Thrilled to take to the #stars with @trevorbmbagency and @ronrosano aboard #Galactic04 with @virgingalactic. Inspiring #girls #women and #youth globally to reach for the stars," Salim posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on Sept. 17.
Thrilled to take to the #stars with @trevorbmbagency and @ronrosano aboard #Galactic04 with @virgingalactic. Inspiring #girls #women and #youth globally to reach for the stars. 🚀🚀🚀September 18, 2023
During Virgin Galactic's infancy, Salim was initially slated to fly to space in 2008. During her long wait since then, Salim founded the nonprofit Space Trust, which advocates for leveraging the growing space sector as a platform for achieving peace on Earth.
Salim is Pakistani and lives in Dubai. When she was announced as one of Virgin Galactic's earliest customers, she was recognized as Pakistan's first astronaut, and will be that country's first citizen in space following her upcoming flight. She was also the first Pakistani to venture to the North and South Poles.
Trevor Beattie 018
"I WILL FLY TO SPACE. I've waited all my life to write those words," Trevor Beattie wrote on X on Sept. 24. Beattie, a British marketing executive, has indeed been waiting quite a long time. Like Salim, Beattie bought his ticket more than 15 years ago.
On Thursday 5th OctoberI WILL FLY TO SPACE.I’ve waited all my life to write those words. #VirginGalactic pic.twitter.com/j1H4r1kzpoSeptember 14, 2023
Since the announcement, Beattie has used social media to voice his excitement for his upcoming mission, including the revelation of several keepsakes he will be bringing with him on Galactic 04. These items include:
- $2.23 check signed by Orville Wright, which has been folded into a paper airplane
- Signed photo of Yuri Gagarin, the first human in space
- An old school project booklet created by Beattie, titled "The Space Race"
- LUNAR Industries patch from the 2009 movie "Moon"
Ron Rosano 017
If there's any doubt in your mind about just how much this man loves space, dispel it. Ron Rosano is an American astronomy educator with seats purchased not only on Galactic 04, but on Blue Origin's New Shepard, and Space Perspective's stratospheric balloon, according to his website.
He has followed the space program since the Apollo moon missions and keeps his own Suborbital Flight Journal, which tracks crewed flights back to 1961. Rosano is one of NASA's Solar System Ambassadors and serves on the boards and advisory councils for numerous astronomy and space organizations. Like his crewmates, he also took to X to announce his upcoming flight.
"Words can't describe the extraordinary joy of being selected by @VirginGalactic for #Galactic04," his Sept. 18 post reads, in part.
Words can't describe the extraordinary joy of being selected by @VirginGalactic for #Galactic04, set to launch on Oct. 5!!! Honored to be flying with you @NamiraSalim and @trevorbmbagency, and then sharing #OverviewEffect with students far and wide with Galactic Unite! 🚀🚀🚀 pic.twitter.com/h3vhhfD44kSeptember 18, 2023
Rosano writes on his website that his purpose is to give "students and humans across the globe a perspective of Earth as a planet as it exists in the incredibly incomprehensible vast emptiness of space, encouraging the understanding of the uniqueness of our globe as a candle of light in an immense universe; inspiring others to see themselves as crew on this planet Earth, and helping others realize the need the protect and preserve this globe, as it exists under a tenuous and extremely thin atmosphere, which keeps everything alive within it."
Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses
Beth Moses is Virgin Galactic's Astronaut 002 and is earning her wings again and again as the company's chief astronaut instructor. She was the first woman to fly aboard a commercial space vehicle, according to Virgin Galactic, and has trained all the crews that have flown since the start of regular operations last summer.
Moses was responsible for training the crew of Galactic 04, and she will accompany the trio on their flight. This mission will be Moses' sixth flight to space aboard VSS Unity.
VSS Unity pilots
Sitting inside the cockpit of VSS Unity will be Galactic 04 commander Kelly Latimer and mission pilot C.J. Sturckow. Both have extensive backgrounds in spaceflight and worked at NASA before joining Virgin Galactic. Now, the two are becoming familiar faces for the Galactic missions.
Latimer served at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center and logged thousands of hours as a research pilot. Notably, after joining Virgin, Latimer was given the chance to fly the Cosmic Girl carrier plane during Virgin Orbit's first successful satellite launch in 2021. (Virgin Orbit, a sister company of Virgin Galactic, filed for bankruptcy this past April.)
Sturckow is a former NASA astronaut who flew four space shuttle missions between joining the agency as an astronaut in 1995 and his retirement in 2013. He joined Virgin Galactic that same year and sat in the cockpit for the company's first spaceflight in December 2018.
VMS Eve pilots
Manning the cockpits of VMS Eve for Galactic 04 are commander Nicola Pecile and pilot Jameel Janjua.
Pecile has logged more than 7,700 flight hours in an impressive 170 different types of aircraft. Before joining Virgin Galactic, Pecile served as a lieutenant colonel in the Italian Air Force. At Virgin, Pecile flew to space for the first time aboard VSS Unity, during the Galactic 01 mission in June of this year.
Janjua has a masters of science in aeronautics and astronautics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and is a retired Canadian Air Force Major with an extensive background as a test pilot. Janjua also flew as VMS Eve's pilot during Galactic 01.
After releasing VSS Unity, VMS Eve will be piloted back to Spaceport America for a runway landing at the end of the Galactic 04 mission.
Virgin Galactic is not planning to livestream Friday's launch, but the company has said it will provide updates of the flight via its social media channels.