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Meet the pilots of Virgin Galactic's first flight to space

Meet the pilots of Virgin Galactic's first flight to space

2018-12-17

Mojave, CaliforniaAfter months of testing Richard Branson's rocket-powered plane at lower altitudes, two of Virgin Galactic's test pilots made it to the edge of space on Thursday - 51.4 miles above Earth.

For pilots Mark "Forger" Stucky and Frederick "CJ" Sturckow, looming over the flight was the memory of a tragic test flight in 2014. Virgin Galactic's first vehicle, SpaceShipTwo, ripped apart in mid-air, killing a co-pilot.
Stucky spoke to CNN Business after Thursday's successful firing of the rebuilt SpaceShipTwo, called VSS Unity, to record heights at nearly three times the speed of sound. He said it was like taking a thoroughbred racehorse into a full gallop for the first time.
"Before you can race her you have to train and walk her down uneven terrain, but eventually you have to say, maybe I should race her," he said. "That's what Unity reminded me of."
The test flight was the first time Brason's space tourism startup has gone more than 50 miles above Earth. It earned both pilots commercial astronaut wings from the US government and put Virgin Galactic on track to become the first private company in the world to take paying customers to space.
Virgin Galactic had worked toward the goal since it was founded in 2004. It also marked the first crewed flight to space from US soil since the Space Shuttle retired in 2011, with Virgin Galactic beating out other well-funded competitors.

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