Virgin Galactic continues to make spaceflight history.
The company successfully sent a Pakistani to space for the first time on its "Galactic 04" mission, which lifted off from New Mexico's Spaceport America this morning (Oct. 6). That passenger was adventurer Namira Salim, founder and chairperson of the nonprofit Space Trust.
Today's milestone comes less than two months after Virgin Galactic launched the first former Olympian and the first mother-daughter duo to the final frontier on its Galactic 02 flight. The daughter in that duo, 18-year-old Anastatia Mayers, also became the youngest-ever spaceflyer during that mission.
Galactic 04 began at 11:28 a.m. EDT (1528 GMT) this morning, when Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity space plane lifted off beneath the wings of its carrier craft, known as VMS Eve.
Eve carried Unity high into the New Mexico skies, ultimately releasing the space plane at 12:10 p.m. EDT (1610 GMT) at an altitude of 44,341 feet (13,515 meters), according to Virgin Galactic. Unity then fired up its onboard rocket motor, powering its way to suborbital space and attaining a top speed of Mach 2.95 — nearly three times the speed of sound — along the way.
Salim and her fellow space tourist customers — British advertising executive Trevor Beattie and American astronomy educator Ron Rosano — got to experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see Earth against the darkness of space. They reached a maximum altitude of 54.3 miles (87.4 kilometers).
Their flight ended at around 12:25 p.m. EDT (1625 GMT), when Unity finally touched down at Spaceport America, Virgin Galactic said in an emailed statement.
Joining Salim, Beattie and Rosano in Unity's cabin was Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor. Kelly Latimer and C.J. Sturckow piloted the space plane, and Nicola Pecile and Jameel Janjua were at the controls of VMS Eve during the mission. (The carrier plane also landed back at Spaceport America.)
As the mission name indicates, Galactic 04 was Virgin's fourth commercial spaceflight. Rosano, Beattie and Salim were the company's 17th, 18th and 19th astronauts, respectively, Virgin Galactic said.
Galactic 04 adds to Salim's adventurer credentials, which were already considerable. For example, she's the first Pakistani to travel to both the North and South Poles.
Salim is one of Virgin Galactic's "Founder Astronauts," having bought her ticket way back in 2006. She paid $200,000 back then; the price has since risen to $450,000.
Virgin Galactic has one main competitor in the suborbital space tourism business: Blue Origin, Jeff Bezos' aerospace company. However, Blue Origin's New Shepard vehicle hasn't flown since suffering a failure during an uncrewed research flight in September 2022.
Editor's note: This story was updated at 3:05 p.m. ET on Oct. 6 with flight statistics from Virgin Galactic.