Looks like Richard Branson is determined to make his company the first major private space tourism company. Virgin Galactic just unveiled a new passenger spaceship on Friday at the Mojave Air & Space Port in California after more than three years of construction, as a replacement for the one that crashed in 2014.
Renowned physicist Stephen Hawking named it Virgin Spaceship (VSS) Unity on Twitter and in a recorded speech. Hawking, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS has got a flight into space offer from Branson.
Prof. Hawking names the new #SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity. "We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity."
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 19, 2016
“I have always dreamed of spaceflight, but for so many years I thought it was just that – a dream,” said Hawking in a recorded message played at the space port. “If I am able to go, and if Richard will still take me, I will be proud to fly on this spaceship.”
According to Branson, this new vehicle signifies it is possible to make space accessible in a way that has only been dreamed about before.
“Our beautiful new spaceship, VSS Unity, is the embodiment of that goal and also a great testament to what can be achieved when true teamwork, great skill and deep pride are combined with a common purpose,” said Branson in a press release.
The company plans to use it to ferry passengers up 50 miles above Earth’s surface once the vehicle has fully checked out. The company said this height will qualify them as “bona fide space tourists.”
George Whitesides, the company’s CEO said, “One of the things that I think is most powerful is that we’ll be able to get a new perspective on our planet as hundreds and eventually millions of people are able to go into space.”
There are some changes that include a device to confine pilots from releasing the craft’s landing gear too early and a variety of switch changes to make them more secure.
Nearly 700 people have signed up for rides even though the company requires $250,000 up front for a seat. As the new spacecraft is near to flying, the dreams of millions of civilians for space travel is closer to reality.