You could soon be taking holidays in space

Zoom: This Virgin Galactic spacecraft can fly at over two times the speed of sound.

Would you be a space tourist? Virgin Galactic has launched a revolutionary new aircraft to the edge of Earth’s atmosphere — it could take tourists into space as early as next year.

Eighty kilometres up. That is the altitude that space officially begins. And in a major breakthrough, it is the height that a Virgin Galactic spacecraft reached in a landmark test yesterday.

“It’s a day that we’ve been waiting for for a long time,” said Virgin Galactic CEO George Whitesides. “We’ve had our challenges […] but to get to the point where we are at least in range of space flight is a big deal.”

During the flight a specially designed plane climbed to around 43,000 feet with a separate spacecraft attached. When the moment was right, pilots detached the craft from the plane, tipped the nose up vertically, and blasted towards space.

At the flight’s highest point, the pilots experienced several minutes of weightlessness and enjoyed views of Earth below stretching 500 miles in every direction.

Soon, this experience could be available to the general public. Branson’s ultimate ambition is to turn Virgin Galactic into the first space tourism company.

Elon Musk’s SpaceX celebrated major breakthroughs this year too — successfully testing reusable rockets which could make space tourism much cheaper. It hopes to fly humans around the moon by 2023.

Would you be a space tourist?

To infinity

Not for me, some argue. For one thing, space travel can never be totally safe. Furthermore, this new “space race” is just a flashy sideshow for the ultra-rich. Companies should put time and money into the problems here on Earth. Space tourism is pointless and indulgent — it would be wrong to support it.

Absolutely, others respond. Space travel has been a pipe dream for many people, but only a tiny minority could actually do it. With these amazing breakthroughs, that is all about to change. We should celebrate this success, and encourage entrepreneurs to make it as accessible as possible. Sign me up!

You Decide

  1. Is space tourism a pointless luxury?

Activities

  1. Imagine you were a passenger on the Virgin Galactic space flight. Write a paragraph detailing your experience: how did it feel when the plane took off? What was weightlessness like? How did Earth look from 80 kilometres above? Include as much descriptive language as possible.

Some People Say...

“We should’ve never left the Moon.”

Ray Bradbury

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
In breaching the 80 kilometre barrier, the Virgin Galactic pilots technically became the first people to launch to “space” from American soil since the space shuttle program ended in 2011.
What do we not know?
We do not know when the first tourists will be sent into space. Virgin Galactic wants to do so next year, however, serious delays have hampered plans before.

Word Watch

Officially
This is the altitude at which the US government awards astronaut wings.
Plane
Called the VMS Eve — named after Sir Richard Branson’s mother.
Spacecraft
Called the VMS Unity. It is designed to carry six passengers into space.
Reusable rockets
Once the boosters have been used, they descend to Earth in a controlled flight, landing vertically on land or sea. They can then be refuelled and sent on another mission.

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