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Meet the crew launching on Virgin Galactic's 1st fully crewed flight Unity 22

Virgin Galactic is counting down to launch its Unity 22 astronauts on the company's first fully crewed suborbital spaceflight Sunday (July 11) and the mission's crew took some time out from training to answer questions about what they expect from space.

The starring passenger is Virgin Galactic's billionaire founder Richard Branson, but riding alongside will be Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research operations at the company. (Their spacecraft, VSS Unity, will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, with C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer piloting the carrier ship, VMS Eve.)

You can watch the launch live Sunday here and on Space.com's homepage beginning at 9 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT). 

Related: How to watch Virgin Galactic launch Richard Branson to space
More: How Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo works (infographic)

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson (third from right) will launch on the company's first fully crewed flight on July 11, 2021 as part of a six-person crew. They are (from left): Pilot Dave Mackay; Colin Bennet, lead operations engineer; Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Branson; Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations; and pilot Michael Masucci.  (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)

 Virgin Galactic posted a video Monday (July 5) on Twitter capturing the passenger crew's reactions about getting to experience space, most of whom are getting to do so for the first time. (Technically speaking, the SpaceShipTwo vessel will fly below the internationally recognized Kármán line at 62 miles or 100 kilometers, but above a 50-mile or 80-km boundary recognized by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. military.)

Regardless of altitude, though, the crew said they were grateful of the chance to experience a spaceflight. 

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 "When I first heard I was getting this opportunity, it was just ..." Bandla, pausing with a catch in her voice. "I think that probably captured it very well," Bandla added of her emotion in answering the question about how she was feeling. "It was speechless."

"When I was younger, I assumed that space was only available to a very select few," Bennett said. (That said, non-employee pricing for a Virgin Galactic seat starts at a reported $250,000.) "I had no idea myself that I would ever be in a position to go to space myself, but here I am," he added.

The crew also answered questions about the spaceflight experience in a series of short video posts on Twitter on Wednesday (July 7). 

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 Asked whether space is cold, Moses explained: "There is no air in space, but inside SpaceShipTwo it will be perfectly climate controlled. It will be absolutely perfectly comfortable at all times." Moses, the only veteran astronaut among the passengers, got to experience the Unity cabin herself during a February 2019 flight. Of note, outside the spacecraft space can be hot or cold depending on the presence of our sun.

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Launches and landings are famous for inducing G-forces (or forces several times that of Earth's gravity) on astronauts, but Bennett said he is prepared to handle the load because he has flown with high-performance jet pilots before. "I'm actually really looking forward to the high G part of the flight," he said.

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"I've had dreams about the flight almost every night," confided Bandla, when asked if she has been dreaming about what she will experience. "I'm one of those people who dream in vivid color every night, and ever since I got the news I'd go to space, I've been dreaming about it. I'm just so excited. It's clearly there, in my mind."

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Branson has been hoping to go to space since the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969, and the 70-year-old discussed his plans for zero gravity during the approximately four minutes of weightlessness the crew will experience. "I'll be looking back at our beautiful Earth, and taking it all in, and realizing that only 500 other people have done this," he said.

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Elizabeth Howell

Elizabeth Howell, Ph.D., is a contributing writer for Space.com since 2012. As a proud Trekkie and Canadian, she tackles topics like spaceflight, diversity, science fiction, astronomy and gaming to help others explore the universe. Elizabeth's on-site reporting includes two human spaceflight launches from Kazakhstan, and embedded reporting from a simulated Mars mission in Utah. She holds a Ph.D. and M.Sc. in Space Studies from the University of North Dakota, and a Bachelor of Journalism from Canada's Carleton University. Her latest book, NASA Leadership Moments, is co-written with astronaut Dave Williams. Elizabeth first got interested in space after watching the movie Apollo 13 in 1996, and still wants to be an astronaut someday.