Turns out there’s something you don’t expect when you finally make it to space via a rocket-powered spaceplane pushing you back into your seat at speeds in excess of Mach 3.
“It’s so quiet.”
That’s what Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic’s lead operations engineer, told me Sunday at Spaceport America.
“When the rocket motor shuts off, all of a sudden it’s very quiet in the cabin; you can talk to each other and hear people in the cabin.”
By now you’ve probably heard that British Virgin Group mogul and billionaire(as defined by NASA) Sunday aboard the Virgin Galactic space plane VSS Unity. Bennett was one of three employees, along with chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses and Sirisha Bandla, vice president for government affairs, to join the company founder in the crew cabin.
“I don’t have all the words, but mind-blowing is the best I can think of right now,” Bennett told me just a few hours after the trip in the temporary VIP lounge setup at Spaceport America.
Indeed, as an edited video from the feed captured inside Unity shows, there are nearly as many laughs and giggles emanating from the mouths of the crew as there are words.
Unfortunately, words are my currency, so I told Bennett I had to press him for more, but I would let him off the hook when it came to forming them into sentences.
“It’s peaceful. It’s tranquil. It kind of feels zen but playful at the same time,” he responded. “Amazing. Life-changing.”
Bennett made clear that he was most impacted by the view of Earth that he calls “stunning.”
“I really don’t know how you can prepare yourself for what you see with your eyes, because I’ve seen the videos and I’ve seen the photos, but when you see it for yourself, it has a huge impact.”
“Like most kids, I have dreamt of this moment as a kid, but honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson told the crowd gathered at Spaceport America shortly after emerging from VSS Unity on Sunday.
When I asked Bennett if the view or the opportunity to feel weightless was more impactful, he didn’t hesitate in telling me it was the view, but he also didn’t knock the opportunity to lose a few pounds, or most of them, actually.
“The weightlessness is so much fun, but it’s very comfortable as well,” he said. “It doesn’t feel too intense … it felt very natural.”
The flight was the culmination of Branson’s and Virgin Galactic’s 17-year, billion-dollar-plus journey that lasted almost exactly one hour from take-off to touchdown at Spaceport America in the remote southern New Mexico desert.
After getting the all-clear from the pilots to unstrap and enjoy weightlessness, Branson was actually the last to do so, first taking a moment to convey a message to the youngest generation on Earth.
“To all you kids down there: I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars; now I’m an adult in a spaceship with lots of other wonderful adults looking down to our beautiful, beautiful Earth,” Branson says, while still strapped into his seat as three Virgin Galactic employees float and flip behind the billionaire. “To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”
During the video, Bennett isn’t heard saying much, except for one comment clearly directed at Branson:
“Richard, you are the man!”
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