Virgin Galactic is ready to embark on another commercial mission, scheduled for tomorrow. The spaceflight will carry three passengers on a brief trip to suborbital space aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo space plane — VSS Unity — and experience several minutes of weightlessness.
The mission will take off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, a state-owned launch facility that hosts Virgin Galactic’s planes for a long time. VSS Unity and its crew will be brought to altitude by SpaceShipTwo’s carrier aircraft, the double-cockpit-designed VMS Eve.
1. Alan Stern
Alan Stern is a planetary scientist working as principal investigator of NASA’s New Horizons mission, which flew by Pluto in 2015, and is currently exploring the Kuiper Belt, the ring of icy bodies beyond Neptune.
Stern’s work with NASA spans dozens of missions over more than two decades, and he currently serves as associate vice president of the Space Science Division at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI). Stern’s seat is sponsored by SwRI and is part of NASA’s Flight Opportunities program, which aims to advance spaceflight technologies through suborbital research aboard commercial missions.
2. Kellie Gerardi
Kellie Gerardi is a missions operations lead at Palantir Technologies, a payload specialist at the International Institute for Astronautical Sciences (IIAS) and an author and space/STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) communicator.
Her research aboard Galactic 05 will continue investigations she has performed during parabolic flights on Earth, which create the experience of weightlessness for passengers for about 30 seconds at a time. Gerardi’s flight is sponsored by the IIAS, and, like Stern’s, the experiments she will perform are largely focused on collecting biometric data.
3. Colin Bennet
Colin Bennett is Galactic 05’s astronaut instructor and has been responsible for training the crew for the flight ahead. He is Virgin Galactic’s Astronaut 003, and flew with Virgin founder Richard Branson on VSS Unity’s final test flight in July 2021. In one of his many roles at Virgin Galactic over the last 15 years, Bennett also served as astronaut instructor for Galactic 01, another research flight.
4. VSS Unity Pilots
Inside VSS Unity’s cockpit will be Commander Mike “Sooch” Masucci and Pilot Kelly Latimer. Both pilots boast long flight resumes.
Masucci served as a lieutenant colonel in the United States Air Force before joining Virgin Galactic. He sat at the helm of VSS Unity during the Galactic 01 mission and was one two VMS Eve pilots on Galactic 02.
Latimer worked at NASA’s Armstrong Flight Research Center for many years and logged thousands of hours as a research pilot. After joining Virgin Galactic, Latimer piloted the Cosmic Girl carrier plane during Virgin Orbit’s first successful satellite launch in 2021.
5. VMS Eve Pilots
Manning the dual cockpits of the VMS Eve carrier aircraft for Galactic 05 will be Commander Jameel Janjua and Pilot Andy Edgell.
Janjua got his start at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where he earned a masters degree in aeronautics and astronautics. He then joined the Canadian Air Force and worked his way up to the rank of major while gaining extensive experience as a test pilot before his retirement from service. Now, Janjua is gaining extensive experience as a pilot for VMS Eve. Including Galactic 05, Janjua has piloted Eve for four of Virgin’s five commercial missions.
Andy Edgell has been an experimental test pilot since 1999, and served in the British Royal Air Force flying F-35s and Harriers, according to Virgin Galactic’s website. Edgell joined Virgin Galactic this year, and this will be his first time in the cockpit during one of the company’s commercial flights.