Less than two years after its first SpaceShipTwo was lost in an accident, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic rolled out Virgin Spaceship Unity, a two-pilot, six-passenger spaceship designed to offer its occupants an unparalleled view of Earth from 62 miles above the planet. Some 700 people have signed up to slip the surly bonds of Earth. Are you ready?
The spaceship was unveiled Feb. 19 with all of the fanfare expected of a Branson product. The gleaming spaceplane looks nearly identical to its predecessor, lost in October 2014 in an accident that the NTSB ruled was a result of pilot error. The Spaceship Co., Virgin Galactic’s manufacturing division, had already begun work on this second spaceship when the accident occurred.
The tail of Unity is different, however, honoring the passion and support of British physicist Stephen Hawking. It features a blue image of a Hawking’s eye. Hawking suggested the spaceship’s name.
“I have always dreamed of spaceflight, but for so many years I thought it was just that—a dream,” Hawking said in a recorded message played at the unveiling. “If I am able to go, and if Richard will still take me, I will be proud to fly on this spaceship.”
The unveiling featured all of Branson’s employees at the Mojave, California, spaceport as well as many of his family members including his mother, Eve, and granddaughter Eva-Deia, who helped her grandfather christen the aircraft with a bottle of milk. It was her first birthday.
“It’s almost too good to be true,” Branson is quoted as saying. “When I saw it for the first time, it brought an immediate lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It was a completely overwhelming moment.”
Test flights of the spaceship have not been set.