Virgin Galactic successfully blasts off to edge of space

Virgin Galactic marked the company’s first commercial spaceflight on Thursday with rocket plane VSS Unity.

Virgin Galactic successfully blasts off to edge of space with rocket plane VSS Unity Getty Images

Virgin Galactic has blasted off to the edge of space, marking the company’s first commercial spaceflight.

After reaching an altitude of around 50,000 feet at 4.30pm UK time, the mothership, VMS Eve, released the rocket plane called VSS Unity with three Italian astronauts on board.

Those inside the spaceship unfurled an Italian flag after reaching a state of weightlessness, having been given the all-clear to unbuckle and “enjoy” zero gravity for a few minutes.

They then returned to their seats and strapped themselves back in ahead of the return journey.

Around 15 minutes later, the crew, including an astronaut instructor, landed safely back on Earth at Spaceport America in New Mexico, having conducted 13 scientific experiments.

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic tweeted: “Welcome back to Earth, #Galactic01! Our pilots, crew and spaceship have landed smoothly at @Spaceport_NM.”

One of the astronauts wore a special suit that measured biometric data and physiological responses.

Another conducted tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics while in microgravity.

A third experiment assessed how certain liquids and solids mix in that environment.

The spaceflight, dubbed Galactic 01, lasted 90 minutes, with the plane’s touchdown on the runway prompting cheers and claps by Virgin Galactic staff.

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