Virgin Galactic: British Olympian and mother-daughter launch on space tourism flight

The paying passengers experienced a few minutes of weightlessness

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A British Olympian and a mother-daughter duo launched to the edge of space on Virgin Galactic second commercial flight on Thursday.

The paying passengers were part of Galactic 02, which was an hour-long experience that gave them a few minutes of weightlessness and striking views of Earth against the darkness of space.

A Virgin Galactic plane took off from a spaceport in New Mexico at 6.44pm, UAE time, delivering the VSS Unity spaceplane to a high enough altitude so it could climb to the boundary of space.

The spaceplane soared 89 kilometres above the New Mexico desert, with footage from inside the cabin that showed the passengers unbuckling and floating towards the windows to enjoy the stellar views.

The plane landed back on the runway at 7.44pm.

Jon Goodwin, a British adventurer and Olympian who competed in the 1972 Munich games in the canoe slalom event, was one of the passengers.

He was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2014 and is committed to raising awareness of the condition.

"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," Mr Goodwin said before the flight.

"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.”

His wife and two sons were at Spaceport America when Mr Goodwin took off on his space tourism flight.

Keisha Schahaff, 46, and Anastatia Mayers, 18, a mother and daughter from Antigua and Barbuda, were also passengers on Galactic 02.

They are the first women from the Caribbean to travel to space.

Ms Schahaff is an entrepreneur and health and wellness coach. She was the beneficiary of two spaceflight seats from a draw that raised $1.7 million in grants for Space for Humanity – a non-profit organisation that helps create access to space.

"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," Ms Schahaff said before her flight.

"The fact that I am here, the first to travel to space from Antigua, shows that space really is becoming more accessible."

Virgin Galactic, founded by Sir Richard Branson, launched its first commercial flight at the end of June, and is hoping to operate monthly flights, as more than 800 ticket holders around the world await their turn.

Rival Blue Origin, owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos, also launches space tourism flights.

It has flown 32 people to the edge of space so far since the first flight in 2021.

Sir Richard flew on Virgin Galactic's first flight in 2021, beating Mr Bezos, who did not fly on the first fully crewed Blue Origin space tourism flight until nine days later.

There was also a debate on which company was actually going into space, with Virgin Galactic reportedly only reaching a peak altitude of 89km and Blue Origin flying 106km.

It is widely accepted that “space begins” at 100km, called the Karman line – the invisible boundary between Earth's atmosphere and the beginning of space.

Updated: August 11, 2023, 8:05 AM