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Virgin Galactic's Galactic 03 Mission Complete, Mystery Crew Revealed

In a mission cloaked in secrecy akin to the classified operations of national security endeavors, Virgin Galactic successfully completed its third commercial suborbital spaceflight today (September 8, 2023).

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Zac Aubert

Zac Aubert

Fri Sep 08 2023Written by Zac Aubert

In a mission cloaked in secrecy akin to the classified operations of national security endeavors, Virgin Galactic successfully completed its third commercial suborbital spaceflight today (September 8, 2023).

The mission began when VSS Unity lifted off tethered to the VMS Eve mothership aircraft, at 10:34 am Eastern from Spaceport America in New Mexico. Once VMS Eve reached its target deployment allituted, VSS Unity was released and ignited its rocket engine, launching the spacecraft towards space.

VSS United reached an alltiude of 88.6 kilometers before commencing its graceful descent and touching down on the runway at the spaceport at precisely 11:36 a.m. Eastern.

This particular mission, codenamed "Galactic 03," marked the third commercial endeavor for Unity. Guiding the Galactic 03 mission was Commander Nicola Pecile, with Michael Masucci serving as the pilot and Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor, occupying the cabin alongside them. In line with the Galactic 02 flight, three private astronauts were also aboard the spacecraft.

However, a significant departure from previous missions was the company's decision to withhold the identities of the private astronauts until after Unity had safely returned to Earth. This secrecy contradicted the traditional practice observed in both government and private crewed missions, where the full crew roster is publicly disclosed weeks or even months ahead of launch. Virgin Galactic refrained from elucidating the reasons behind this uncharacteristic veil of confidentiality.

A day prior to launch Virgin Galactic released the first clue to who was onboard by posting a video showing the left arm sleves of Astronaut 014, 015, and 016. Then while VSS Unity was making its decent back to Spaceport America a video was releaed showing the crew floating in space minutes earlier. Following Unity's landing, Virgin Galactic finally unveiled the names of the private astronauts.

"It's an honor to see our 'Galactic 03' crew realize their lifelong dreams of spaceflight as they inspire our manifest of Future Astronauts." - Michael Colglazier, Virgin Galactic's Chief Executive

So Who Was Onboard?

Astronaut 014 - Ken Baxter

Ken Baxter, nicknamed "Rocketman," is a Las Vegas real estate entrepreneur with a lifelong fascination for space. He was inspired to pursue space travel after watching an interview with Sir Richard Branson about Virgin Galactic's commercial space venture.

Ken reached out to Branson, committed to the idea, and eventually purchashed the first ticket from Branson in 2022.

Besides his interest in space, Ken is known for his successful marketing and sales skills, having closed over 56,000 real estate transactions. He and his wife, Linda, are also passionate about environmental conservation, supporting various ecological and educational initiatives through their Green Global charity and family foundation.


Astronaut 015 - Tim Nash

Timothy Nash is a South African entrepreneur, adventurer, conservationist, and member of the Hubbard Council of The National Geographic Society. He has a deep passion for aviation and science and has longed to go to space since buying a ticket on Virgin Galactic in 2006.

Timothy made history during the Galactic 03 mission by carrying two significant fossils of human ancestors with him into space: the clavicle (collar bone) of the almost 2-million-year-old Australopithecus sediba and a thumb bone of Homo naledi, dating back approximately 250,000 years. These fossils were found in the Cradle of Humankind, a UNESCO World Heritage Site near Johannesburg, South Africa. This journey symbolizes the connection between human exploration and space travel, highlighting how the endeavors of these ancient species contributed to our ability to venture into space.

Timothy Nash proudly displays a DNA tattoo on his leg, representing Virgin Galactic's "DNA of Flight."

Astronaut 014 - Adrian Reynard

Adrian Reynard is a highly accomplished Chartered Engineer with two doctorates in science and engineering. He holds professorships at two universities and is recognized as a Fellow of prestigious organizations such as the Royal Aeronautical Society, the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, and the Royal Academy of Engineering.

At a young age of 19, he designed and built a motorcycle, using it to break five world land speed records in motorcycle racing.

In 1973, Adrian founded Reynard Racing Cars Ltd, a company that became renowned for manufacturing racing cars that achieved numerous championships in various categories, including Formula 3, Formula 3000, IndyCar, Le Mans, and multiple ChampCar titles. His company became the largest racing car manufacturer globally during the 1990s and received two Queen's Awards for Export.

Adrian's passion for space was influenced by his father's career as an aviation engineer, and he, like his fellow Galactic 03 crewmates, grew up during the era when space travel was emerging in the 1960s.

Adrian carried two medals from renowned Gemini and Apollo Astronauts on his Galactic 03 flight: the NASA Distinguished Service Medal awarded to Ed White and an Apollo 1 Mission Medal that Gus Grissom was supposed to take into space. During his flight on VSS Unity, Adrian will proudly display the UK flag, the British Racing Club Driver's patch, and an emblem representing the Friends of Race Against Dementia organization.

While Virgin Galactic opted for secrecy regarding its passengers, some of the astronauts themselves had been openly discussing the upcoming flight. For instance, Ken Baxter had maintained a dedicated website where he provided regular updates on his preparations for the mission. Notably, Baxter's website described him as "America's First Space Tourist," a title typically associated with Dennis Tito, who, 22 years ago, paid for a seat on a Soyuz flight to the International Space Station.

Diverging further from past practices, Virgin Galactic chose not to provide a webcast of the Galactic 03 mission. Instead, the company relied on social media updates to disseminate real-time information, echoing its approach during the May test flight.

Next Mission Confirmed

Virgin Galactic has confirmed its plans for the Galactic 04 mission, scheduled for early October, continuing the company's impressive cadence of monthly missions. The future of commercial space travel appears increasingly promising, as Virgin Galactic remains at the forefront of this pioneering industry.