Virgin Galactic has just added a scientist with a big name to its list of passengers.
Alan Stern, who heads NASA New Horizons mission to Pluto and beyond, was chosen to fly aboard SpaceShipTwo, Virgin Galactic’s suborbital spacecraft.
This will not be just a pleasure cruise: Stern was chosen through NASA’s flight program to conduct agency-funded research on the upcoming flight.
Connected: How Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo works (infographics)
“This is the first selection of a private sector researcher flying with NASA-funded commercial vehicles,”
He described his choice as a “potential marine change” that could pave the way for much more extensive space research along the way.
The two-pilot, six passenger SpaceShipTwo was pulled up by a carrier called WhiteKnightTwo, which dropped the spacecraft to an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters). SpaceShipTwo then ignites its rocket engine and makes its own way to suborbital space.
Passengers and scientific payloads during the journey will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth against the blackness of space. More than 600 customers have booked a seat on board SpaceShipTwo for a ticket price (soon) of $ 250,000, Virgin Galactic officials said.
Virgin Galactic builds and operates several SpaceShipTwo vehicles and has another called VSS Unity. Unity is over two manned demonstration fields to the suborbital space and concludes its test campaign at Spaceport America in New Mexico, Virgin Galactic’s mall.
When Stern ascends, he will test a low-light camera to assess its potential for future astronomical observations. Its vital signs will also be monitored throughout the two-hour mission as a biomedical experiment, SwRI officials said.
The camera technology is one of 31 newly selected experiments that will receive a commercial flight test through the Flight Opportunities program. Some of these tests will be conducted on board suborbital vehicles such as SpaceShipTwo and Shepard’s new craft of Blue Originwhile others will fly balloons and planes at high altitudes, which cause short periods of microgravity through parabolic flight. You can read about all the experiments from NASA here.
The upcoming mission will be the first space flight for Stern, a former NASA chief of science who has been on 29 different space mission science teams during his long and varied career.
“Going to work in space for the first time, after spending so many years sending machines there to do research for me, will be a major focus of my career and something I am honored to be chosen for,” he said in the same statement. . “But I hope this is just the first of a steady stream of flights by SwRI researchers working in space in the coming years and decades.”
Mike Wall is the author of “There” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom or Facebook.