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Virgin Galactic takes first tourists to edge of space - as British ex-Olympian calls flight 'most exciting day of my life'

The company, founded by Sir Richard Branson, took a former Olympian and mother-daughter pair about 55 miles (88km) above Earth during the 60-minute flight.

Virgin Galactic has taken its first tourists to the edge of space, with an 80-year-old British ex-Olympian saying the trip "exceeded my wildest dreams".

On board the VSS Unity were Jon Goodwin, from Newcastle, who had competed in canoeing at the 1972 Games in Munich, Keisha Schahaff, 46, and her 18-year-old daughter Anastatia Mayers, a University of Aberdeen student.

The crew took the passengers about 55 miles (88km) above Earth where they experienced zero gravity during the flight which lasted just over an hour.

Speaking later about the trip, Mr Goodwin said it was a "completely surreal experience" and "the most exciting day of my life"

He said: "The most impressive thing was looking at Earth from space, the pure clarity was very moving."

"It was far more dramatic than I imagined it would be, the pure acceleration was completely surreal," he said.

Mr Goodwin, who has Parkinson's disease, said he wanted to show the illness "doesn't stop you from doing things [that are] not normal".

"I just hope some good comes out of that."

The octogenarian bought his ticket for $200,000 in 2005 and was the fourth ever person to do so.

He paid tribute to "the acceptance of Virgin Galactic".

"When I signed up, I didn't have Parkinson's. When, nine years ago, I contracted the disease I thought that's the end of me going into space.

"They’ve done various health checks but they never stopped me doing what I wanted to do - they need an enormous amount of credit for that," he said.

 (L-R) Anastatia Mayers, Keisha Schahaff and Jon Goodwin during their news conference

 The space tourists pictured boarding their Virgin Galactic flight. Pic: AP

Meanwhile, Anastatia Mayers said she had taken a University of Aberdeen pin into space because "they supported me through all of this". She is studying physics and philosophy at the university.

She said "the experience has grounded me and awoken me - I definitely feel a lot more connected to Earth itself and a lot more motivated to explore and be even more adventurous".

The mother and daughter, who are from Antigua and Barbuda, won their places in a prize draw.

The pair were the first astronauts from the Caribbean and the first mother and daughter to go into space.

Keisha Schahaff said: "I'm still up there, I'm not here yet, and it's just amazing that you can land so smoothly on the runway coming back from space. It was so comfortable, it was really the best ride ever, and I would love to do this again."

Pilots CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer, alongside astronaut instructor Beth Moses, joined the tourists on the VSS Unity, which took off around 8.30am local time (3.30pm UK time) at Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The VSS Unity separated from its carrier plane, the VMS Eve, at 9.17am (4.17pm UK time), at an altitude of about 44,500ft, and ignited its rocket to fire upwards for around a minute.

Just two minutes later, footage from inside VSS Unity showed the passengers out of their seats, weightless and peering at the Earth outside the rocket's windows.

Further footage from cameras mounted outside of the rocket showed the curvature of the Earth.

The VSS Unity landed at Spaceport America at 9.33am (4.33pm UK time). It was met by applause from those watching on from Virgin Galactic, with the passengers smiling and nodding.

It was Virgin Galactic's seventh trip to space since 2018, but the first with tourists.

It held its inaugural commercial trip earlier this summer, when three Italian citizens were taken into low orbit for scientific research experiments.

The company, founded by Sir Richard Branson, is set to offer monthly trips to customers on its winged space plane, joining Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX in the space tourism business.


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