Virgin Galactic’s first commercial spaceflight, expected to launch Thursday, is drawing comparison to last week’s Titan submersible tragedy.
The company, a part of billionaire Sir Richard Branson’s Virgin Group, announced this week it will send three Italians and a Virgin Galactic flight instructor on the Galactic 01 mission, as it sells tickets for future space tours for $450,000.
When the social media account Pubity, which counts 33 million followers, posted the Virgin Galactic announcement alongside a promotional video Monday, several Instagram users raised concerns in the wake of the deadly implosion of OceanGate’s submersible on a pricey journey to explore the Titanic shipwreck.
“No thanks, don’t wanna be searched for in the space with an oxygen level that lasts for 2h,” one person wrote.
“Soooo they didnt learn with the sub?” another wondered.
“No thanks, I prefer to die for free,” someone else quipped.
The Post has reached out Branson’s reps for comment.
Some were quick to argue that going to space is easier.
“The truth is, it is easier to go to space than to the bottom of the ocean …,” someone said while defending the mission.
Branson, 72, has been working in the space industry for more than two decades, with several spaceflights behind him — only, in the past, they were reserved for astronauts and those with aeronautical experience.
Even then, spaceflight missions often see delays due to factors such as weather, technical issues and other unforeseen circumstances.
In July 2007, for example, three employees were killed and three critically injured at the Mojave Air and Space Port in California while testing components of the first SpaceShipTwo VSS Enterprise.
Branson had planned to launch tourists into space in 2013 before pushing this timetable to 2015. Federal government approval was finally granted in 2021.
The final test flight was completed in May after the company made safety upgrades to its fleet.
Col. Walter Villadei and Lt. Col. Angelo Landolfi, of the Italian Air Force, and Pantaleone Carlucci, an engineer from the National Research Council of Italy, will join Virgin Galactic’s astronaut Colin Bennett for the historic spaceflight.
The crew is expected to board the VSS Unity in New Mexico sometime after 11 a.m. Thursday for a 90-minute flight to conduct microgravity research. As part of the mission, the crew will undertake 13 “human-tended and autonomous experiments.”
Virgin Galactic CEO Michael Colglazier said Monday in a statement that the company’s “research missions will usher in a new era of repeatable and reliable access to space for government and research institutions for years to come.”
“We are launching the first commercial spaceline for Earth with two dynamic products — our scientific research and private astronaut space missions,” Coglazier added. “The next exciting chapter for Virgin Galactic has been driven by innovation, determination and a commitment to delivering an unparalleled and truly transformative customer experience.”
The company plans in August to begin flights to the edge of space for ticketholders, starting with Galactic 02. Monthly flights are expected to follow.
Some 800 tickets have been sold in the last decade.
The initial batch went for $200,000, with the price rising to $450,000 per person.
If the mission is successful, Virgin Galactic could compete with rival companies offering commercial passenger flights into space, such as SpaceX and the Jeff Bezos-owned Blue Origin.
The Virgin Galactic launch details come days after the US Coast Guard announced that debris from the Titan submersible was found at the bottom of the North Atlantic Ocean near the Titanic wreckage.
The sub was carrying five people as part of a June 18 tourist expedition to view what remains of the Titanic. Communication with Titan was lost 1 hour and 45 minutes into its dive, and authorities were alerted when it failed to resurface at the scheduled time later that day.
Stockton Rush, Hamish Harding, Shahzada and Suleman Dawood and Paul-Henri Nargeolet died in the implosion.
Titan made its first dive to the Titanic in July 2021. OceanGate undertook six dives to the Titanic in 2021 and seven in 2022.