LIFTOFF: Virgin Galactic’s Successful Launch Marks Start of New Age of Space Tourism

In case you (somehow) missed it, this weekend was a landmark for commercial spaceflight – and for New Mexico – as Virgin Galactic sent its first full crew of astronauts, specialists, and its founder into space from Spaceport America on Sunday morning.

The occasion marked the company’s 22nd test flight and 4th crewed spaceflight, and was the first spaceflight ever to be livestreamed. The crew’s main objective this time was to evaluate customer experience objectives, including seat comfort, the weightless experience, and the views of Earth that the spaceship delivers.

But the two-hour flight was more than just a new first for Virgin Galactic: it marks the start of a new age of space travel where anyone can be an astronaut (as long as you can afford the $250,000 ticket, that is) – and one that could be a boon to New Mexico’s tourism industry.

Spaceport America, located in New Mexico midway between Truth or Consequences and Las Cruces, has been Virgin Galactic’s spaceflight home through the years-long testing process. Now that the program is wheels up, the company can start selling tickets for the priceless experience in earnest, with hopes to ultimately launch as many as 400 flights each year. And for New Mexico, this means a whole new world of international tourism as wealthy future space travelers pass through the Santa Fe-Albuquerque corridor on their way to the Spaceport.

In some ways, Virgin’s spaceflight program is already #NewMexicoTrue. If you watched Sunday’s livestream, you may have noticed the Zia symbol etched into the side of the Unity. The program also featured New Mexico True tourism ads, with reports this week that the state invested $1.5 million in the media buy that’s already had more than 7 million views.

The Albuquerque Journal covered the historic flight extensively over the weekend – check out their stories for more.

You can also watch the recording of the test flight’s livestream, hosted by Stephen Colbert and a panel of astronauts and experts, here. All photos sourced from Virgin Galactic.

The Unity’s rocket blasts the spaceship through the sound barrier moments after its release from Eve to send the crew to space.

Virgin Galactic founder Sir Richard Branson floats in Zero G on Sunday’s flight.

The Unity lands following a successful October test flight.

Sunday’s crew: Dave Mackay, Chief Pilot; Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer; Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor; Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Galactic; Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations; Michael Masucci, Pilot.

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