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Galactic 05 launch
Virgin Galactic 05, nicknamed “High 5,” initiating the climb uphill to space on November 2. (credit: Virgin Galactic)

My suborbital life, part 8: Welcome to space!

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On Thursday I flew to space, and what a ride it was!

From the hurtling ascent, to the jam-packed three minutes of otherworldly microgravity to get our real work done, to the washboard deceleration of entry, and then the steep glide to a greased landing, it was simultaneously thrilling, fulfilling, and enchanting. And, there’s no contest, it was the single best work day I have ever had!

All of spaceflight is at its heart, about teamwork. No space flight—human or robotic—has ever been done by a single individual.

I could not have flown with a better crew, and Virgin Galactic could not have done a better job. It was a textbook performance all around, and Kellie Gerardi and I each accomplished all our research and training objectives. In my case, that included six mandatory objectives that my employer and sponsor, the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), needed to call the mission a success, two bonus objectives we’d identified ahead of time, and one get-ahead objective for my upcoming second suborbital flight next year. It was nine for nine: a more than full success flight!

In my next (and my next to last) essay about this flight, I’ll discuss how the many items I anticipated about the flight in my sixth essay turned out in reality. But for today’s installment, I want to just touch on two little-discussed but very important aspects of the space flight.

The first was how our children and grandchildren felt seeing us accomplish our dreams high above the Earth, and then returning to them with incredibly special experiences. I was deeply touched by the images below as examples of that. This is something many space flyers come to know, I expect, but I hadn’t viscerally seen its powerful impact until I became one of those flyers and saw flight day pictures like the three just below.

Upper left: Delta Gerardi running into her mother Kellie’s arms after the spaceflight (credit: Virgin Galactic). Upper right: My daughter Kate photographing the release just before ascent high above Spaceport America ( credit: Iris Fisher). Lower panel: Myself and Ketty Masonrouge with her granddaughter Clara (credit: Virgin Galactic).

The second aspect I want to emphasize is the teamwork and comradery that resulted from our preps for and work together on flight. The selfie below was taken by our mission commander, Mike “Sooch” Masucci, just after wheels stop, before any of us egressed to step back on Earth.

Selfie of the Galactic 05, aka “High 5!”, crew just after landing. (credit: Mike Masucci (center), Virgin Galactic).

All of spaceflight is at its heart, about teamwork. No space flight—human or robotic—has ever been done by a single individual: Instead, it always requires teams to make it happen, and that is one of my favorite parts of working in this industry.

Our team on Galactic 05 was large, but at its core were the six of us who flew the mission, who risked ourselves a little, and who were rewarded a lot by the mission’s many successes, and also by our newfound bond in having shared a spaceflight experience together, a privilege few humans ever have.

It’s my hope that the coming era of commercially dominated spaceflight opens up this incredible experience and its many powerful use cases, to many, many more people as it progresses across the new, “roaring ’20s!”

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