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Virgin Galactic Flies Its First Tourists to the Edge of Space


Virgin Galactic Flies Its First Tourists to the Edge of Space
August 10, 2023  12:24 PM
Associated Press
銀河維珍號10日成功升上88公里的高空鳥瞰地球,讓乘客體驗數分鐘的無重力狀態之旅。創辦人理查‧布蘭森(Richard Banson)是繼貝佐斯及馬斯克之後,第三個加入太空商業旅行戰局的民營公司。高齡八十歲的英國奧運選手古德溫(Jon Goodwin)是此次首航的三名旅客之一,雖已罹患巴金森氏症但仍不能阻擋他圓夢,並希望透過他的親身經歷激勵世人。此次同行的還有健身教練夏哈夫(Keisha Schahaff)和她的女兒,兩人因抽獎活動而有幸能上太空。數十年來,人類不斷地探索未知的冒險旅程,此次首航的風險更因泰坦號(Titan)的水底爆炸事故而引起關注。銀河維珍號也曾於2014年測試時不幸因航空器爆炸造成一名飛行員死亡。然而,想體驗太空之旅的乘客還是前仆後繼、絡繹不絕,絲毫不受此事故的影響。
Virgin Galactic rocketed to the edge of space with its first tourists Thursday, including a former British Olympian who bought his ticket 18 years ago and a mother-daughter duo from the Caribbean.

The space plane glided back to a runway landing at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, after a brief flight that gave passengers a few minutes of weightlessness.

Cheers erupted from families and friends watching from below when the craft's rocket motor fired after it was released from the plane that had carried it aloft. The rocket ship reached about 88 kilometers high.

Richard Branson's company expects to begin offering monthly trips to customers on its winged space plane, joining Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX in the space tourism business.

Virgin Galactic passenger Jon Goodwin, who was among the first to buy a ticket in 2005, said he had faith that he would someday make the trip. The 80-year-old athlete — he competed in canoeing in the 1972 Olympics — has Parkinson's disease and wants to be an inspiration to others.

"I hope it shows them that these obstacles can be the start rather than the end to new adventures," he said in a statement.

Ticket prices were $200,000 when Goodwin signed up. The cost is now $450,000.

He was joined by sweepstakes winner Keisha Schahaff, 46, a health coach from Antigua, and her daughter, Anastatia Mayers, 18, a student at Scotland's University of Aberdeen. Also on board: two pilots and the company's astronaut trainer.

It was Virgin Galactic's seventh trip to space since 2018, but the first with a ticket-holder. Branson, the company's founder, hopped on board for the first full-size crew ride in 2021. Italian military and government researchers soared in June on the first commercial flight. About 800 people are currently on Virgin Galactic's waiting list, according to the company.

Virgin Galactic's rocket ship launches from the belly of an airplane, not from the ground, and requires two pilots in the cockpit. Once the mothership reaches a height of about 15 kilometers, the space plane is released and fires its rocket motor to make the final push to just over 80 kilometers up. Passengers can unstrap from their seats, float around the cabin for a few minutes and take in the sweeping views of Earth, before the space plane glides back home and lands on a runway.

In contrast, the capsules used by SpaceX and Blue Origin are fully automated and parachute back down.

Like Virgin Galactic, Blue Origin aims for the fringes of space, quick ups-and-downs from West Texas. Blue Origin has launched 31 people so far, but flights are on hold following a rocket crash last fall. The capsule, carrying experiments but no passengers, landed intact.

SpaceX is the only private company flying customers all the way to orbit, charging a much heftier price, too: tens of millions of dollars per seat. It's already flown three private crews. NASA is its biggest customer, relying on SpaceX to ferry its astronauts to and from the International Space Station since 2020.

People have been taking on adventure travel for decades, the risks underscored by the recent implosion of the Titan submersible that killed five passengers on their way down to view the Titanic wreckage. Virgin Galactic suffered its own casualty in 2014 when its rocket plane broke apart during a test flight, killing one pilot. Yet space tourists are still lining up, ever since the first one rocketed into orbit in 2001 with the Russians.

Branson, who lives in the British Virgin Islands, watched Thursday's flight from a party in Antigua. He had held a virtual lottery to establish a pecking order for the company's first 50 customers — dubbed the Founding Astronauts. Virgin Galactic said the group agreed Goodwin would go first, given his age and his Parkinson's.


Language Notes

  • sweepstake:(通常指賽馬的)賭金全贏制 
  • intact:完整無缺的、未受損傷的 
  • hefty:(數額、尺寸、力量等)大的、可觀的 
  • underscore:強調…的重要性;在(詞語)下面畫線 
  • pecking order:長幼尊卑制度;權勢等級 
  • dub:稱…爲,將…冠以 

Check your comprehension!

Choose the BEST answer to each of the questions below. After you finish, highlight the parentheses to reveal the hidden answers.

1. (  B  )  _______  has started to transport NASA astronauts to the Space Station since 2020 .
(A) Blue Origin
(B) SpaceX
(C) Virgin Galactic
(D) British Virgin

2. (  B  )  Which company enables their space flight all the way to orbit?
(A) Blue Origin
(B) SpaceX
(C) Virgin Galactic
(D) British Virgin

3. ( D ) Which of the following statements is TRUE about Galactic Virgin’s recent space tourism? 
(A) Its space flight was driverless. 
(B) It was their first commercial flight ever.  
(C) Goodwin won a lottery to board the spaceplane.  
(D) Its rocket ship was launched from an airplane.