Virgin Galactic flies first mother-daughter duo into space

10 Aug 2023

From left: Anastatia Mayers, Jon Goodwin and Keisha Schahaff. Image: Virgin Galactic

The third astronaut aboard the spaceflight was British Olympian Jon Goodwin, a canoeist who has also become the second person with Parkinson’s to enter space.

A Caribbean woman, her daughter and an 80-year-old British man walk into a spacecraft – what happens next is no joke. Aboard the Virgin Galactic 02 mission, the trio made history today (10 August) as the first ‘tourists’ to enter space and experience weightlessness for a few moments.

Keisha Schahaff, Anastatia Mayers and Jon Goodwin were the three private astronauts aboard Virgin Galactic’s second commercial suborbital spaceflight using VSS Unity, the reusable space plane. They landed back in the US state of New Mexico at around 4.30pm Irish Standard Time.

But the fact that they’re not trained astronauts is not the only thing that stands out about this mission. Goodwin, a British Olympian from Newcastle, becomes the second person with Parkinson’s to enter space, while Schahaff and Mayers become the first mother-daughter duo.

Goodwin competed as a canoeist in the 1972 Munich Olympics. According to BBC News, he paid $250,000 for his ticket in 2005 but had feared his diagnosis in 2014 would mean he could not take part.

Meanwhile, Schahaff, who is a health and wellness professional from Antigua, a small island in the Caribbean, won the tickets for both her and her daughter to board the Virgin Galactic flight in a competition heavily advertised by founder and British billionaire Richard Branson.

Mayers, who is only 18 years old and studies philosophy and physics at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland, has become the youngest person to travel to space, sharing the spot with Oliver Daemen, who flew on the Blue Origin NS-16 along with Jeff Bezos two years ago.

Headquartered in California, Virgin Galactic was founded by Branson in 2004 to make private human spaceflight mainstream. This plan, however, was derailed in 2014 after a previous prototype exploded during a test launch, killing one of the pilots and injuring the other.

In October 2019, Virgin Galactic became the world’s first publicly traded human spaceflight company after listing on the New York Stock Exchange.

“By embarking on this new chapter, at this advanced point in Virgin Galactic’s development, we can open space to more investors and, in doing so, open space to thousands of new astronauts,” Branson said at the time.

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Vish Gain is a journalist with Silicon Republic