Credit By: BBC
Virgin Galactic made headlines with the inaugural launch of its all-tourist space flight, captivating the world’s attention. However, a critical detail emerged—despite the event’s grandeur, the flight fell short of the space frontier. The Galactic 02 mission, christened as the pioneer of space tourism, ascended to a commendable altitude of 49.7 miles. Nonetheless, this elevation did not meet the scientific threshold for defining space.
Notably, the US Air Force confers “astronaut wings” upon aviators who navigate above the 50-mile marker, signifying a transition into space. In this context, Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic spacecraft ventured into the upper echelons of Earth’s atmosphere, the mesosphere, a domain spanning 22 miles thick. However, the craft’s ascent fell considerably shy of the Karman line, positioned at 62 miles.
This foray into not-quite space arrives at a juncture when Virgin Galactic finds itself grappling with financial challenges. The past three years have witnessed the company’s coffers drained of substantial capital, painting a grim economic landscape.
The Karman line, an internationally recognized boundary distinguishing Earth’s atmosphere from outer space, has historical origins tinged with arbitrariness. World leaders in the 1960s haphazardly established this distinction, rendering it a tenuous measure.
Surprisingly, the altitude at which an object can achieve a stable orbit around Earth extends well beyond the Karman line, dispelling the notion of space tourism today, rendering it more akin to atmosphere tourism.
Even the prominent Richard Branson’s much-touted 2021 “space flight” did not transcend the atmosphere entirely, reaching a height of 53 miles—exceeding the altitude of Virgin’s recent tourist-laden flight yet remaining firmly within the realm of Earth’s atmosphere.
In a contrasting narrative, a subsequent Blue Origin flight, graced by Star Trek luminary William Shatner, soared to even greater heights at 66 miles above the planet’s surface. Notably, Jeff Bezos, a rival billionaire who transitioned to astronaut status, encountered no altitude predicament that plagued Branson. Bezos’s venture, Blue Origin, transported him and fellow civilians to an altitude surpassing 65 miles—a feat accomplished shortly after Branson’s spaceflight fell short of departing the atmosphere.
Distinctively, the Blue Origin excursion crossed the Karman line and attained weightlessness for an impressive four-minute duration—an accomplishment that Virgin Galactic has hitherto only managed to replicate through swift earthward descent to mimic lightness.