Virgin Galactic launches 1st Pakistani to space on 4th commercial spaceflight (video)

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.

Related: Meet the crew of Virgin Galactic's 'Galactic 04' mission 

The passengers of Virgin Galactic 04 experience weightlessness during their flight on Oct. 6, 2023. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic via X)

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.

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Mike Wall
Senior Space Writer

Michael Wall is a Senior Space Writer with and joined the team in 2010. He primarily covers exoplanets, spaceflight and military space, but has been known to dabble in the space art beat. His book about the search for alien life, "Out There," was published on Nov. 13, 2018. Before becoming a science writer, Michael worked as a herpetologist and wildlife biologist. He has a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology from the University of Sydney, Australia, a bachelor's degree from the University of Arizona, and a graduate certificate in science writing from the University of California, Santa Cruz. To find out what his latest project is, you can follow Michael on Twitter.

  • Erik
    attention seeking tripe from the rich and entitled.
  • Kehk in a MiG
    Erik said:
    attention seeking tripe from the rich and entitled.
    As long as they are bringing money into NM, I say "tripe it up"!
  • FireNWater
    Journalists should use the term "space" (with quote marks) to differentiate Virgin Galactic and Bezos's flights from actual orbital space flights.
  • Kehk in a MiG
    FireNWater said:
    Journalists should use the term "space" (with quote marks) to differentiate Virgin Galactic and Bezos's flights from actual orbital space flights.
    Technically, everywhere is space.