WHAT’S BEING CLAIMED:
- Richard Branson’s space-tourism company, Virgin Galactic, has flown its first non-pilot called SpaceShipTwo to nearly 56 miles above Earth providing some minutes of zero gravity.
- Chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses is the company’s first passenger to fly in a commercial spaceship.
- However, another space-tourism company Blue Origin owner Jeff Bezos doubted the capabilities of Virgin Galactic saying that vehicles that don’t fly above 62 miles are quite questionable.
Vehicles that can fly high enough to briefly enter space, provide minutes of zero gravity, then return to the ground is part of a decades-long effort by multiple companies to usher in an era of frequent and safe suborbital space tourism.
On Friday, the first non-pilot on a rocket-powered spaceship was launched by Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic company. Its first passenger was Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor who tested the passenger cabin and experienced several minutes of weightlessness inside. She is also dubbed as the company’s first woman to fly aboard a commercial spaceship.
Named VSS Unity, the SpaceShipTwo vehicle lifted off the ground under the wings of WhiteKnightTwo, a double-bodied airplane mothership. Unity dropped from its mothership once it reached a proper altitude, ignited a rubber-fuel rocket engine, and soared high above Earth.
According to Virgin Galactic, the speed of Unity was about three times the speed of sound reaching an altitude of 55.87 miles, about 10 times a passenger jet’s cruising altitude.
“While the crew enjoyed extraordinary views of Earth from the black skies of space and, during several minutes of weightlessness, Beth floated free to complete a number of cabin evaluation test points,” Virgin Galactic said in a press release.”
However, earlier this week, Amazon and aerospace company Blue Origin founder Jeff Bezos challenged Virgin Galactic’s capabilities and said that the company isn’t capable yet to fly above the Karman line. The billionaire further added that not going beyond this point would earn asterisks beside an astronaut’s name-meaning doubts arise whether you are really an astronaut.
Why is Blue Origin aiming for the Karman line?
The Karman line refers to the border between the Earth’s atmosphere and outer space. It is named after Theodore von Kármán who mentioned in his book “The wind and Beyond” that there is no longer any air to contribute lift” above 57 miles in altitude.
While NASA and the US Air Force accept an altitude of 50 miles as a demarcation between pilots and astronauts, Bezos disputes that “for most of the world … the edge of space is defined as 100 kilometers” or 62 miles high, during an interview by Jeff Foust of Space News.
Bezos also mentioned that Blue Origin will fly to 106 kilometers or 66 miles, referring to the autonomous and fully reusable rocket-and-space-capsule system called New Shepard developed by the company.
“We’ve always had as our mission that we wanted to fly above the Kármán line, to remove any doubts about status,” Bezos said.
Additionally, the company is also planning an upcoming launch of New Shepard’s first human passengers.
A spokesperson for Virgin Galactic responded to a request for comment to Bezos’ assessment, but unable to provide a statement in time for publication.
Source: Business Insider