Virgin Galactic has released a video introducing the public to the pilots who fly the company's VSS Unity space plane, which is gearing up for its final test flight.
The suborbital flight, known as Unity 25, is set to take off on Thursday (May 25) and will be the final step on Virgin Galactic's long journey to realizing commercial space flight.
The Unity 25 crew will consist of Virgin Galactic Chief Astronaut Instructor Beth Moses, fellow instructor Luke Mays and Mission Specialists Jamila Gilbert and Christopher Huie, who also work for the company.
The test flight will finish verifying the experience of VSS Unity's crew, paving the way for Virgin Galactic's first commercial flight, dubbed Galactic 01, which is set to take place in late June.
"We are all now living through a historical moment in human history where humans are able to safely leave the planet," Moses said in the video. "Space is such an unbelievable, mind-blowing, incredible experience, and we get to share it and experience it together."
The six-passenger VSS Unity will be carried to an altitude of 50,000 feet (15,000 meters) by the VMS Eve mothership, as it has been on previous flights. A key piece of Virgin Galactic's space tourism infrastructure, VMS Eve will be flown Thursday by Commander Jameel Janjua and Pilot Nicola Pecile.
After being dropped by Eve on Thursday morning, VSS Unity will power up its own rocket motor and zoom up to suborbital space. This will be the 25th flight overall and fifth journey to space for the craft, which Moses describes as a "hand-flown suborbital ballistic space plane."
"Airliners don't fly without pilots onboard. Why would you get on a spaceship to go into space without having a pilot on board?" Virgin Galactic Chief Pilot Dave McKay asked in the video. He added that the highly experienced test pilots behind the mission and future commercial space trips have flown craft as diverse as high-altitude spy planes, high-performance jets and space shuttles.
"We have one of the most talented and experienced group of test pilots in the world," McKay continued.
Another Virgin Galactic pilot, Kelly Latimer — a former test pilot at NASA's Armstrong Flight Research Center — pointed out that having a pilot on board also makes spaceflight "a more human experience."
"Space is something that evokes a very human characteristic that leads us to wonder what's beyond," Janjua said in the video.
For Virgin Galactic, what lies beyond Unity 25 is the first commercial flight to space, tickets for which went on sale over a year ago, in February 2022.
Passengers aboard VSS Unity experience a roughly 90-minute journey, including a signature air launch and Mach-3 boost to space. They'll enjoy several minutes of out-of-seat weightlessness as they view Earth from the spaceship's 17 windows.
"We are just at the very beginning," Pecile said in the video. "You can only imagine where we will be in 100 years."
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Robert Lea is a science journalist in the U.K. whose articles have been published in Physics World, New Scientist, Astronomy Magazine, All About Space, Newsweek and ZME Science. He also writes about science communication for Elsevier and the European Journal of Physics. Rob holds a bachelor of science degree in physics and astronomy from the U.K.’s Open University. Follow him on Twitter @sciencef1rst.