Virgin Galactic will launch six people to suborbital space next month on the company's first private astronaut mission.
The flight, known as Galactic 02, is scheduled to lift off from New Mexico's Spaceport America on Aug. 10. It will be the company's second commercial spaceflight, following a June 29 mission for the Italian Air Force and the nation's National Research Council (which were government, not private, customers).
Galactic 02 will break new ground, becoming the first mission to loft a former Olympian and people from the Caribbean, according to Virgin Galactic. The crew also includes a mother-daughter duo, another spaceflight first.
"The dynamic and multinational crew highlights the role the commercial space industry can play in removing barriers that once existed to becoming an astronaut," the company wrote in an update today (July 17) that announced the Galactic 02 crew.
The former Olympian is 80-year-old British adventurer Jon Goodwin, who competed in canoeing in the 1972 Summer Games in Munich. Goodwin has Parkinson's and will become just the second person diagnosed with the disease to reach space, Virgin Galactic said.
"When I was diagnosed with Parkinson's in 2014, I was determined not to let it stand in the way of living life to the fullest," Goodwin said in today's update. "And now for me to go to space with Parkinson's is completely magical. I hope this inspires all others facing adversity and shows them that challenges don't have to inhibit or stop them from pursuing their dreams."
The mother and daughter are Keisha Schahaff and Anastatia Mayers, who hail from the Caribbean nation of Antigua and Barbuda. They won their seats in a 2021 sweepstakes organized by Virgin Galactic and charity fundraising platform Omaze. (The money raised went to the nonprofit Space for Humanity.)
"When I was two years old, just looking up to the skies, I thought, 'How can I get there?' But, being from the Caribbean, I didn't see how something like this would be possible," Schahaff said in today's update. "The fact that I am here, the first to travel to space from Antigua, shows that space really is becoming more accessible."
Mayers, 18, will become the second-youngest person to reach space, according to Virgin Galactic. The youngest was Oliver Daemen, who was also 18 when he flew on Blue Origin's New Shepard suborbital vehicle in July 2021.
Three other people will fly to space on Galactic 02, all of them Virgin Galactic employees.
The company's chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, will be in the cabin of the VSS Unity space plane along with Goodwin, Schahaff and Mayers. C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer will be at the vehicle's controls, as commander and pilot, respectively.
Unity lifts off beneath the wing of a carrier plane called WhiteKnightTwo, which drops the spacecraft at an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). Unity then fires up its onboard rocket motor, makings its own way to suborbital space and treating passengers to a few minutes of weightlessness and great views of Earth.
On Galactic 02, Nicola Pecile will command WhiteKnightTwo and Mike Masucci will pilot it, Virgin Galactic said.