UNITED STATES NEWS

Italian researchers reach the edge of space flying aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane

Jun 29, 2023, 6:43 AM | Updated: 1:44 pm

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — A team of Italian researchers reached the edge of space Thursday morning, flying aboard a rocket-powered plane piloted by Virgin Galactic as the space tourism company prepares for monthly commercial flights.

The flight launched from Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert, with two Italian Air Force officers and an engineer with the National Research Council of Italy focusing on a series of microgravity experiments during their few minutes of weightlessness.

One wore a special suit that measured biometric data and physiological responses while another conducted tests using sensors to track heart rate, brain function and other metrics while in microgravity. The third studied how certain liquids and solids mix in that very weak gravity.

Virgin Galactic livestreamed the flight on its website, showing the moment when the ship released from its carrier plane and the rocket was ignited. The entire trip — from lifting off at Spaceport America to gliding back down to the runway — took about 90 minutes. The space plane reached a peak altitude of more than 52 miles (85 kilometers).

In all, there were six aboard — two Virgin Galactic pilots, the three Italians and another Virgin Galactic employee who oversees training for passengers.

With the ship’s pilot, it marked the most Italians in space at the same time. Col. Walter Villadei, a space engineer with the Italian Air Force, celebrated by unfolding an Italian flag while weightless.

For Villadei, it was even more historic as the Italian Air Force is marking its 100th year. He said he sees commercial flight as an opportunity for more researchers to access space and to foster the development of new technologies.

“It’s a kind of changing of the mindset,” he told The Associated Press in an interview. “We are sharing the risk, we are growing up together, we are learning (from) each other — the private (sector) from the institutions and the institutions from the private (sector). This is amazing to me.”

Next up for Virgin Galactic will be the first of hundreds of ticket holders. Many have been waiting years for their chance at weightlessness and to see the curvature of the Earth. Those commercial flights are expected to begin in August and will be scheduled monthly, the company said.

Virgin Galactic has been working for years to send paying passengers on short space trips and in 2021 finally won the federal government’s approval. The company completed its final test fight in May.

The Italian research flight was initially scheduled for the fall of 2021 but Virgin Galactic at the time said it was forced to push back its timeline due to a potential defect in a component used in its flight control system. Then the company spent months upgrading its rocket ship before resuming testing in early 2023.

After reaching a specific altitude, Virgin Galactic’s space plane is released from a carrier aircraft and drops for a moment before igniting its rocket motor. The rocket shuts off once it reaches space, leaving passengers weightless before the ship then glides back to the runway at Spaceport America.

Virgin Galactic has sold about 800 tickets over the past decade, with the initial batch going for $200,000 each. Tickets now cost $450,000 per person.

The company said early fliers have already received their seat assignments.

Villadei said it was an honor to be among the first of Virgin Galactic’s passengers, and while his focus was on running experiments, he did not miss the opportunity to look outside.

“The boundaries between the black of the sky and the colors of the Earth beneath us was amazing,” he said, noting that his expectations were surpassed even though he has years of training under his belt.

Villadei and his colleagues collected blood and urine samples before and after the flight as part of their numerous experiments. He said it will take months to analyze the data and the results will help to formulate new experiments aimed at better understanding microgravity.

“The future is definitely something that is going to deal with space. Space is the new frontier,” he said. “We are going to expand our knowledge and our capability to live and work and spend time in space.”

___

AP video journalist Carrie Antlfinger in Milwaukee, WI, contributed to this report.

United States News

Associated Press

3 Columbia University administrators put on leave over alleged text exchange at antisemitism panel

NEW YORK (AP) — Columbia University said it has placed three administrators on leave while it investigates allegations that they exchanged unprofessional text messages while attending a panel discussion about antisemitism on campus. The university said the administrators work for its undergraduate Columbia College, which hosted the panel discussion “Jewish Life on Campus: Past, Present […]

6 hours ago

Associated Press

Man charged in shooting that critically wounded Philadelphia officer, police say

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — A 36-year-old Philadelphia man was charged Sunday with attempted murder in connection with a shooting that critically wounded a police officer after a traffic stop, police said. Ramon Rodriguez Vazquez also faces charges that include aggravated assault and home invasion, police said. The 31-year-old officer and his partner stopped a car carrying […]

8 hours ago

Associated Press

California boy, 4, who disappeared from campground found safe after 22 hours alone in wilderness

FRESNO, Calif. (AP) — A 4-year-old California boy who wandered away from a campground in the Sierra National Forest was found safe after spending 22 hours alone in the wilderness, authorities said. A search-and-rescue team of about 50 officers and volunteers set out around 11 a.m. Thursday after the child was reported missing from the […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

One man died and five others were hospitalized in downtown St. Louis shooting

ST. LOUIS (AP) — One man is dead and five others have been wounded in a downtown St. Louis shooting, police said. Police believe women were fighting in a park when men interfered and drew firearms, according to social media posts from the agency. The man who died was in his mid-twenties, police said. Five […]

9 hours ago

Associated Press

Michigan sheriff’s deputy fatally shot pursuing a stolen vehicle in Detroit

DETROIT (AP) — A Michigan county sheriff’s deputy was fatally shot while pursing a suspected stolen vehicle in Detroit, the Oakland County sheriff’s office said Sunday. Bradley J. Reckling, who was on duty in an unmarked car, was following a 2022 Chevy Equinox Saturday evening after the vehicle was reported stolen earlier in the day […]

10 hours ago

Associated Press

Triple-shooting suspect captured after intensive search across Colorado farmland

ALAMOSA, Colorado (AP) — The suspect in a shooting that left one person dead and two others with critical injuries was captured Sunday following an intensive search across a huge area of southern Colorado. Officers went door to door as aircraft searched overhead for Henry Corral, 44, who authorities said had taken off on foot […]

10 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

...

Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines can get you smoothly from Phoenix to Frankfurt on new A330-900neo airplane

Adventure Awaits! And there's no better way to experience the vacation of your dreams than traveling with Condor Airlines.

...

COLLINS COMFORT MASTERS

Here are 5 things Arizona residents need to know about their HVAC system

It's warming back up in the Valley, which means it's time to think about your air conditioning system's preparedness for summer.

...

DISC Desert Institute for Spine Care

Sciatica pain is treatable but surgery may be required

Sciatica pain is one of the most common ailments a person can face, and if not taken seriously, it could become one of the most harmful.

Italian researchers reach the edge of space flying aboard Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered plane