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Thursday, Nov. 2, Virgin Galactic completed its sixth space mission in six months and 10th to date. The Galactic 05 mission saw Virgin Galactic’s spaceship converted into a suborbital lab for space-based scientific research for the second time.
“Providing researchers with reliable and repeatable access to a high-quality microgravity environment is vital to our mission of expanding human knowledge and enabling scientific discoveries,” said Michael Colglazier, CEO of Virgin Galactic.
The crew of the Galactic 05 mission included Astronaut 020, Dr. Alan Stern, U.S. planetary scientist and associate vice president in Southwest Research Institute’s (SwRI) Space Sector; Astronaut 021, Kellie Gerardi, U.S. payload specialist and bioastronautics researcher for the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS); and Astronaut 022, Ketty Pucci-Sisti Maisonrouge, a private astronaut of Franco-Italian nationality.
Stern and Gerardi are experienced researchers who conducted human-tended research during the suborbital spaceflight. As a former NASA Associate Administrator for the Science Mission Directorate, Stern’s mission was planned to be a training flight for a future suborbital spaceflight as part of the NASA’s Flight Opportunities program. He will fly a biomedical harness to collect physiological data related to human spaceflight and conduct practice activities for an astronomical experiment on the NASA flight.
Stern flew with two human-tended experiments, including a biomedical harness to collect physiological data related to human spaceflight. He also conducted practice routines and procedures in preparation for a future NASA-funded suborbital research flight.
“The success of this mission is another important step in the development of the scientific and educational use cases for commercial suborbital vehicles,” he said. “The potential here is literally astronomical.”
Gerardi flew with three payloads, two of which evaluated novel healthcare technologies in microgravity conditions through the collection of biometric data. The third payload examined how confined fluid behaves to inform future healthcare technologies in space.
Galactic 05 was Virgin Galactic’s sixth spaceflight carrying microgravity and space-based research and its second in 2023, following Galactic 01, a research mission with the Italian Air Force and National Research Council.
VSS Unity was piloted by Commander Mike Masucci and Pilot Kelly Latimer, with astronaut instructor Colin Bennett on board. VMS Eve was piloted by Commander Jameel Janjua and Pilot Andy Edgell.
The Galactic 06 mission is expected to take place in January 2024 to allow time for routine, planned annual vehicle inspections before re-commencing with standard pre-flight readiness procedures. The mission is planned to carry four private astronauts to space.