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Virgin Galactic finally makes manned flight from New Mexico

Capitalism in space: More than a decade later than initially promised, Virgin Galactic today finally made its first successful manned flight from Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The flight apparently reached 55 miles altitude before returning to Earth.

This was the first flight of VSS Unity since December 12, 2020, when the flight was aborted just one second after separating from its carrier airplane, WhiteKnightTwo, when a computer disconnected unexpectedly. Further delays followed:

The problems didn’t stop there, as in early May, a new issue crept up as a post-flight inspection of VMS Eve called for further engineering analysis to assess a known problem in the tail of the vehicle which was to be addressed during the next scheduled maintenance period. The company says that they have completed the analysis and determined that the structures are healthy and cleared Eve for flight.

Their plans are to do one more test flight, and then a “commercial” flight carrying company founder Richard Branson. Following that they will begin selling and flying tourists.

It appears however that they will have lost the race to fly the first suborbital tourist in space, as it appears that Blue Origin’s July 20th commercial flight will happen first.

Conscious Choice cover

Now available in hardback and paperback as well as ebook!


From the press release: In this ground-breaking new history of early America, historian Robert Zimmerman not only exposes the lie behind The New York Times 1619 Project that falsely claims slavery is central to the history of the United States, he also provides profound lessons about the nature of human societies, lessons important for Americans today as well as for all future settlers on Mars and elsewhere in space.

Conscious Choice: The origins of slavery in America and why it matters today and for our future in outer space, is a riveting page-turning story that documents how slavery slowly became pervasive in the southern British colonies of North America, colonies founded by a people and culture that not only did not allow slavery but in every way were hostile to the practice.  
Conscious Choice does more however. In telling the tragic history of the Virginia colony and the rise of slavery there, Zimmerman lays out the proper path for creating healthy societies in places like the Moon and Mars.


“Zimmerman’s ground-breaking history provides every future generation the basic framework for establishing new societies on other worlds. We would be wise to heed what he says.” —Robert Zubrin, founder of founder of the Mars Society.


All editions are available at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and all book vendors, with the ebook priced at $5.99 before discount. The ebook can also be purchased direct from my ebook publisher, ebookit, in which case you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


Autographed printed copies are also available at discount directly from me (hardback $24.95; paperback $14.95; Shipping cost for either: $5.00). Just email me at zimmerman @ nasw dot org.


  • Col Beausabre

    Despite claims you may hear, they didn’t reach space – generally considered to be attitudes of over 100 kilometers (62 miles).

  • Col Beausabre: Just to be precise about things, they didn’t reach space as defined by international standards. The American standard has always been different, 50 miles, though up until recently that American standard had mostly been abandoned. Virgin Galactic brought it back to life when they realized they couldn’t get to 100 kilometers.

  • kyle

    Has there been any releases on how much of a backlog they have due to presales of seats for the last decade or so? Are they going to space out the presales to alleviate the lower ticket price?

  • Jay

    They stated in an Bloomberg article last year that they pre-sold over 600 tickets.

  • Kyle

    So 2 flights a month would be 5 years of flight with no new income… sounds like a great investment.

  • Captain Emeritus

    “Unity” ground crew, all festooned with rainbow masks, and adorned with (the self-proclaimed Marxist organization.) regalia.
    I did not know, Virgin Galactic, an American company, endorses Marxism.
    I withdraw all support..
    Virgin Galactic should be grounded immediately, before MORE lives, are lost.

  • George C

    Kyle, I don’t know how many take off and landing cycles the carrier aircraft has in it, but it should be able to fly much more often than twice a month. Maybe every day until it needs to go into the shop. And maybe the incremental costs of an extra rocket plane or two is worth the investment. The key question: does it become reliable enough for bank financing? Obviously SpaceX is ahead of everybody in the reliable proven track record race . With the retirement of the Soyuz line the field seems devoid of close competitors except for SpaceX itself.

  • Jeff Wright

    Now wait just a minute now. I thought they said they had structural bugs with the carrier aircraft. Go fever to stop the hemorrhaging?

  • Col Beausabre

    Under what certificate the mother ship and space craft are flying. is important. If it is “Experimental” (which must be displayed proninently on the aircraf) they are absolutely porhibited from carrying paying passengers. Full stop. The end. Period.×675.jpeg

    They have to be re-certified to commercial standards in order to be able to carry passengers and if there are known structural bugs in the mother ship, VG has to demonstrate they are corrected by more than bubble gum and duct tape before the FAA issues that certtificate. Regulators are innately cautious, the horrible PR that would result if they certify an aircraft carrying paying passengers that breaks up in mid-air and the damage to their institutional creditability that would result is a total nightmare to be absolutely avoided.

    In other words, I see BEEG delays to VG as thy determine the cause and engineer and apply the fix.

  • I’ve thought the ’50-mile’ standard too low, especially after X-15, in which eight pilots won astronaut wings (‘though the civilians wouldn’t get theirs ’till later

    Is 100k a minimum-orbit altitude? It seems reasonable to establish ‘space’ as an orbit you can maintain for a reasonable amount of time, without having to pull a ‘Spock Maneuver’.

  • bkivey: In the 1960s the U.S. military did a number of test satellites orbiting as low as 50 miles, to determine how long they could stay in orbit before atmospheric drag brought them down. At that time the Air Force considered that the edge of space.

    The satellites could orbit of course, but only for a short time.

  • I should add that it was quickly found that any orbit lower than 100 miles would not last every long, though at 100 miles it was possible to do many of the Gemini manned missions, if my memory serves me.

  • Robert Zimmerman noted: “I should add that it was quickly found that any orbit lower than 100 miles would not last every long, though at 100 miles it was possible to do many of the Gemini manned missions, if my memory serves me.”

    I have observed that crewed missions operate above 100 miles (160k in cryptocurrency), so maybe that should be the standard?

  • Doubting Thomas

    Col. B – Regarding movement from experimental to passenger carrying. I seem to vaguely remember a time back in 2004 when Spaceship One made it’s two hops and everyone thought we were a year or two away from suborbital tourist flights,.

    At that time, I think, it was explained by the FAA & USG that they were NOT going to apply FAA aircraft certification to these types of flights. I thought the point was that rather than being passengers, tourists were “spaceflight participants” and as long as they were clearly informed of risks and signed, they could participant in the space flight with the crew. The regulated portion was that the space flight company and rich tourists couldn’t kill us boobs on the ground when they exciting adventure turned into a fatal adventure.

    I’ll appeal to our host to help clear it up, I do not put it past the FAA to apply mission creep and make the whole thing as hard as getting a passenger airline certified, but at the start, USG explicitly said they would not do such a thing.

  • Doubting Thomas: See these two columns written by myself for UPI: Read them and then come back for my further comments.

    December 9, 2004: Congress Restricts Private Space

    February 17, 2005: Private Space, More Rules

    This 2004 law, as far as I remember, remains in force. It appears that as long as these companies label their flights “experimental” the FAA has so far allowed them to go forward with relatively little oversight. The law however gives the agency power to increase that oversight if it wishes.

    Once they begin flying “spaceflight participants” commercially, the law’s heavy handed bureaucratic rules take over. Whether the FAA will impose them, or make believe they don’t exist because it doesn’t have the staff to increase its supervision, remains unknown. Based on recent experience with SpaceX and Starship, I expect the FAA to increase its bureaucratic hold.

    In this sense Col. Beausabre is exactly right. I expect Virgin Galactic will have problems getting an okay to fly Branson, based on their own admitted technical issues.

  • wayne

    “Should Outer Space Begin at 80km?”
    Scott Manley weighs in (2018)

  • wayne

    >.historical perspective:

    Aerojet General Corporation
    “Company Report”

  • Doubting Thomas

    Robert & Col B – Well, I stand corrected. I must have remembered the pre-2004 dreams not the post 2005 reality. I guess, really guess here, that those details in your references and post Robert, may have been one delay for BO and New Shepard, so maybe I will be less critical of the pace of BO and New Shepard.

    Anyway, thanks for the education, one reason I come here to this informative site.

  • Doubting Thomas: The slow pace of Blue Origin the past five years cannot be blamed on this law or the FAA. They were doing flights almost monthly in 2016 and seemed poised to begin commercial flight within a year. Then Bezos hired Bob Smith as Blue Origin’s CEO, and everything ground to a halt, with only about one flight per year for the next five years. It wasn’t the FAA that slowed them down, but internal management decisions.

    Moreover, Trump was in charge during that time, and repeatedly acted to prevent government bureaucracies from slowing such development down. Consider SpaceX’s pace during that time for comparison.

  • Edward

    Defining the edge of the atmosphere or the beginning of space is necessarily arbitrary. If it is declared as a distance above sea level, then it is explicitly arbitrary, but if it depends upon something else, such as when the speed of an aircraft would have to be orbital speed, it is still an arbitrary definition. After all, why not define it as the altitude at which a satellite can make one complete orbit (or ten, or a hundred)? Or the highest altitude that an aircraft can fly or a balloon can float, since these are what would violate a nation’s “airspace.” Or maybe the altitude at which blood boils, or at which lungs can no longer take in enough oxygen to keep the body alive? How about the altitude at which an aircraft’s control surfaces no longer provide sufficient control and thrusters are needed (although this may also depend upon the aircraft’s speed)? How about when an aircraft’s skin stops being heated by the friction with the air, or the lowest altitude at which it is safe for a rocket to jettison its fairings? The altitude at which a vacuum rocket engine is more efficient than the equivalent sea level engine (e.g. Merlin vs. Merlin vacuum engines)?

    Speaking of arbitrary choices, I like that last one best, so I will call that the Edward line.

  • Mike a

    Hey Mr. Z,

    How much you want to bet that Sir Richard sells a big chunk of stock off of the bump that the successful test flight brought Monday morning?

    Up 15% 90 minutes after the bell.

  • pawn

    ” The slow pace of Blue Origin the past five years cannot be blamed on this law or the FAA. ”

    Bob, I beg to differ.

    In the early times you reference, Bezos seemed to be unaware or extremely cavalier of the issues of liability and flight certification. I think finally someone got to him about how liable he would be if BO fried or splashed someone who had a lot of legal horsepower behind them. Much of the work that has been done recently on the NS is developing the documentation for certification. It’s a bucket of bolts and essentially a carney ride full of explosives.

    You don’t fly civilians in prototypes.

    Bezos is very much about image and not so much about the difficult work that has to be done to make something that passes for real in the modern aerospace world.

    Elon too had been cavalier about current standards for flight safety. That has changed.

  • pzatchok

    Bezos could fly on his next flight if he just lists himself as navigator or test co-pilot.

    He might have to flip a switch when told to but I think he could handle it.

    His family and board of directors might have something to say about it but the call is his.

  • Edward

    Robert wrote: “This 2004 law, as far as I remember, remains in force. It appears that as long as these companies label their flights “experimental” the FAA has so far allowed them to go forward with relatively little oversight. … Once they begin flying “spaceflight participants” commercially, the law’s heavy handed bureaucratic rules take over.

    I have faith that Virgin Galactic (and Blue Origin, SpaceX, and Boeing) are keeping their eyes wide open on these laws, rules, and regulations.

    “Experimental” seems like a good label on these first few manned spacecraft, as I think we can expect that we have not yet learned enough about the perils of spaceflight to consider them routine. We tried that with the Space Shuttle, only to have shocking and tragic surprises.

    I suspect, however, that we will eventually start classifying passenger spacecraft as “commercial,” even before they have the same safety record that U.S. airliners have now. It took almost a century of flight and thousands of lost lives in order to learn the safety requirements that we have now. Some should flow into spaceflight, but other lessons will have to be learned: (Bill Whittle: “The Deal: 7 minutes)

    The reason that we have cheap, affordable, and safe air transportation today and no space transportation whatsoever is simply because we were serious about air travel — serious enough to pay the price in blood and money — and we’re not serious about space.

    This video is a decade old, and we are now approaching two decades without a passenger fatality on a major U.S. jetliner (the Asiana Airliner crash in San Francisco was a foreign airliner on U.S. soil). The “deal” is that we have to be brave enough to pay the price for progress, and that price includes risking lives. This is a time when we want everything to be completely safe, yet we still get into our cars and drive, because we think it is worth the price in blood for the convenience of quick, cheap, ground transportation to the grocery store the airport, or the spaceport.

  • Dave Walden

    “We,” Edward, is to be defined as those of us who are willing and able. “Willing” defined as a mixture of bravery and confidence, “able” defined as having access to the resources and to remain free from restrictive prohibition/coercion from the rest of us!

  • Col Beausabre

    “Bezos could fly on his next flight if he just lists himself as navigator or test co-pilot”

    That is correct with the following caveats

    First –

    “(d) Each person operating an aircraft that has an experimental certificate shall –

    (1) Advise each person carried of the experimental nature of the aircraft”

    Usually this consists of a form acknowledging that such notification has been made and holding the owners and operators of the aircraft free of legal responsibility if anything happens

    Second – This is limited to five people besides the “operator” (Pilot in Command)

    “(j) No person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate under § 61.113(i) of this chapter unless the aircraft is carrying not more than 6 occupants.”

    Three – The restrictions on any of these people paying for the flight still stand, so you unless VG wants to give free flights to 600 plus people, using this as a loophole would seem to defeat the whole purpose of the exercise.

    This is normally interpreted two ways

    1) Allowing for non-rated test personnel to be aboard the aircraft to conduct observations and measurements (dating back to the days of people reading dials and recording the values in notebooks or manning cameras – obviously mainly replaced by on-board recording devices, telemetry and remote cameras)

    2) If you construct a “home built” aircraft in your garage and want to fly the family to Vegas in it, you are free to do so, (provided it’s five people and you don’t charge your brother-in-law for the flight. I don’t think anyone can even chip in for gas or landing fees), but

    “(c) Unless otherwise authorized by the Administrator in special operating limitations, no person may operate an aircraft that has an experimental certificate over a densely populated area or in a congested airway.”

    The FAA judges what “densely populated” and “congested” means.

    Their verdict is “arbitrary, capricious and final”

    So maybe Vegas is out

  • @Col Beausabre: I had no idea that up to six people could be carried in an ‘experimental’ aircraft. Seems like a lot of risk for an uncertified design. But, as you note, informed people making free choices. Not opposed to the reg; just surprised.

  • Col Beausabre

    bkivey – That “loophole” was responsible for one of the most notorious casualty lists from a crashed experimental aircraft in our history as it wiped out its on-board test crew and killed a large number of by-standers

    “On 21 September 1942, Allen took the first XB-29 on its initial flight and continued as the program’s chief pilot. The second prototype first flew on 30 December 1942, this flight being terminated due to a serious engine fire. On 18 February 1943 the second prototype also experienced an engine fire, which was extinguished, but a second fire erupted. Two crewmen bailed out as the plane narrowly missed downtown Seattle skyscrapers on its approach to Boeing Field, but their parachutes did not deploy in time and they were killed. The aircraft crashed into the Frye Packing Plant just short of the runway, Allen, eight other crewmen and 19 workers in the meat-processing factory were killed.”

    To the end of its service, the Superfort retained a reputation for overheated engines and fires, caused by tight engine cowlings restricting cooling and the propensity of the Wright F-3350 engines to leak oil. But as the saying of the time said, “Don’t you know that there’s a war on” and the bomber was deployed – the operational loss rate was “acceptable”
    (Trainee B-26 crews in Florida were putting “A plane a day in Tampa Bay” and the USAAF had a song that went “Will You Go Boom Today”

    and another that that had one verse that went

    “Don’t give me a P-39, with an engine behind,
    It will tumble and roll, and dig a big hole,
    Oh don’t give me a P-39”

    There was a reason you drew flight pay back in those days of yesteryear)

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