Meet the crew launching on Virgin Galactic’s 1st fully crewed flight Unity 22
Virgin Galactic is counting down to launch its Unity 22 astronauts on the company’s first fully crewed suborbital spaceflight Sunday (July 11) and the mission’s crew took some time out from training to answer questions about what they expect from space.
The starring passenger is Virgin Galactic’s billionaire founder Richard Branson, but riding alongside will be Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research operations at the company. (Their spacecraft, VSS Unity, will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, with C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer piloting the carrier ship, VMS Eve.)
You can watch the launch live Sunday here and on Space.com’s homepage beginning at 9 a.m. EDT (1400 GMT).
Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson (third from right) will launch on the company’s first fully crewed flight on July 11, 2021 as part of a six-person crew. They are (from left): Pilot Dave Mackay; Colin Bennet, lead operations engineer; Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Branson; Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations; and pilot Michael Masucci. (Image credit: Virgin Galactic)
Virgin Galactic posted a video Monday (July 5) on Twitter capturing the passenger crew’s reactions about getting to experience space, most of whom are getting to do so for the first time. (Technically speaking, the SpaceShipTwo vessel will fly below the internationally recognized Kármán line at 62 miles or 100 kilometers, but above a 50-mile or 80-km boundary recognized by NASA, the Federal Aviation Administration and the U.S. military.)
Regardless of altitude, though, the crew said they were grateful of the chance to experience a spaceflight.
Welcome Sirisha Bandla, Colin Bennett, and Beth Moses — our expert crew members joining @richardbranson on our #Unity22 test flight. Watch LIVE this Sunday at https://t.co/5UalYT7Hjb. @SirishaBandla @VGChiefTrainer pic.twitter.com/F4ZrGnH3voJuly 5, 2021
“When I first heard I was getting this opportunity, it was just …” Bandla, pausing with a catch in her voice. “I think that probably captured it very well,” Bandla added of her emotion in answering the question about how she was feeling. “It was speechless.”
“When I was younger, I assumed that space was only available to a very select few,” Bennett said. (That said, non-employee pricing for a Virgin Galactic seat starts at a reported $250,000.) “I had no idea myself that I would ever be in a position to go to space myself, but here I am,” he added.
The crew also answered questions about the spaceflight experience in a series of short video posts on Twitter on Wednesday (July 7).
Will it be cold in space, @VGChiefTrainer? #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/duooV6FodkJuly 7, 2021
Asked whether space is cold, Moses explained: “There is no air in space, but inside SpaceShipTwo it will be perfectly climate controlled. It will be absolutely perfectly comfortable at all times.” Moses, the only veteran astronaut among the passengers, got to experience the Unity cabin herself during a February 2019 flight. Of note, outside the spacecraft space can be hot or cold depending on the presence of our sun.
How will you handle the high g-force, Colin Bennett? #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/ZxuXDwzLYSJuly 7, 2021
Launches and landings are famous for inducing G-forces (or forces several times that of Earth’s gravity) on astronauts, but Bennett said he is prepared to handle the load because he has flown with high-performance jet pilots before. “I’m actually really looking forward to the high G part of the flight,” he said.
Have you had dreams about this flight, @SirishaBandla? #unity22 pic.twitter.com/PIIknabetxJuly 7, 2021
“I’ve had dreams about the flight almost every night,” confided Bandla, when asked if she has been dreaming about what she will experience. “I’m one of those people who dream in vivid color every night, and ever since I got the news I’d go to space, I’ve been dreaming about it. I’m just so excited. It’s clearly there, in my mind.”
What will you do in zero gravity, @richardbranson? #Unity22 pic.twitter.com/qVEsyTsURSJuly 7, 2021
Branson has been hoping to go to space since the Apollo 11 moon landing of 1969, and the 70-year-old discussed his plans for zero gravity during the approximately four minutes of weightlessness the crew will experience. “I’ll be looking back at our beautiful Earth, and taking it all in, and realizing that only 500 other people have done this,” he said.
Follow Elizabeth Howell on Twitter @howellspace. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.