From Southern New Mexico, Virgin Galactic launches first human spaceflight in two years

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FILE – In this Thursday, Feb. 13, 2020 file photo, Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity departs Mojave Air & Space Port in Mojave, Calif. for the final time as Virgin Galactic shifts its SpaceFlight operations to New Mexico. Virgin Galactic’s spaceship VSS Unity, tucked under the wing of its special carrier aircraft, headed east from Southern California on a long-awaited ferry flight to its new home in New Mexico where it will be prepared for commercial operations carrying tourists on hops into space, the company said. (Matt Hartman via AP)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — Virgin Galactic completed its first human spaceflight in two years on Saturday morning, launching its spacecraft at 8:34 a.m. from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, N.M.

SpaceShipTwo carried VSS Unity to about 44,000 feet before VSS Unity detached around 9:26 a.m and continued on to space. Pilots C.J. Sturckow and Dave Mackay flew Unity, while Kelly Latimer and Michael Masucci flew SpaceShipTwo.

According to a news release from Virgin Galactic, “VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space, at an altitude of 55.45 miles before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.”

Saturday’s successful flight brings Virgin Galactic’s dream of space tourism one step closer to fruition.

According to New Mexico officials, the flight means New Mexico is the third U.S. state to send humans to space. New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham attended the launch, saying she was proud that New Mexico played a vital role in the achievement.

“After so many years and so much hard work, New Mexico has finally reached the stars,” said Lujan Grisham. “Our state’s scientific legacy has been honored by this important achievement, one that took guts and faith and an unwavering belief in what New Mexico can achieve — and indeed is destined to achieve. I can’t wait to see what comes next.”

Virgin Galactic said the Zia Sun symbol was placed prominently on the exterior of the spaceship and the crew flew green chile seeds, synonymous with the state’s rich agricultural and culinary history.

British billionaire and Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson was also in attendance, celebrating the successful launch with a small group.

He confirmed in a Twitter post that the two pilots and a research payload belonging to NASA had reached space.

View the full launch in the player below:

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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