The world’s first commercial spaceline, Virgin Galactic is on a mission to connect people across the globe through space travel; bringing them together through the shared sense of awe and wonder that comes as a result of seeing planet Earth from above. Chief astronaut instructor and the first female to fly to space on a commercially launched vehicle, Beth Moses is exactly who you would want by your side on your own journey to space. We spoke to her about her journey to where she is today, and what budding astronauts can expect from a Virgin Galactic flight.
How did you get into this field?
I’ve always wanted to build and fly spacecraft. Growing up, there was never a time that I wanted to do anything else, and I had this pivotal moment in my freshman year of high school that started my journey — I was reading a brochure about the backgrounds and qualifications of NASA astronauts and saw aerospace engineer listed as one. I had never seen the words ‘aerospace’ and ‘engineer’ together before, and it triggered something in me, and from that moment on I set out to follow that path. It might sound cliche, but I truly got to where I am today by following my childhood dream.
What excites you most about your job?
Being able to bring space to so many people. I’ve been an aerospace engineer and worked in human spaceflight all of my life, from college to NASA to Virgin Galactic, and now being able to share the experience of space with people around the world is truly remarkable. I’ve always been a believer that seeing the Earth from space will change the world for the better, and after going twice there’s no doubt in my mind that it will. As cabin lead for our Unity 22 spaceflight, I got to see the smiles of all the crew members and watch the sheer wonder and awe across their faces as they experienced the breathtaking views of Earth.
What can people expect on board a Virgin Galactic flight?
During each Virgin Galactic spaceflight, you’ll experience weightlessness, breathtaking views of Earth and a life-changing transformation — all in unparalleled comfort. The 90-minute journey begins with a smooth runway takeoff as our spaceship, attached to the mothership, ascends towards the skies. We utilize an air-launch system, which makes the journey to release altitude calm and enjoyable. Once at the release altitude of approximately 50,000 ft, the pilots call “3, 2, 1, release” and the spaceship is released from the mothership and rockets towards space, reaching speeds of up to three-and-a-half times the speed of sound.
After the rocket motor cuts off you’ll coast up to reach apogee. For me, this is the heart of our Virgin Galactic spaceflight. It’s the point at which you’re farthest from the Earth and the pilots have pointed the windows to Earth, and then coast to a complete stop. This moment feels timeless as you’re floating in weightlessness. Your whole body becomes still, your mind settles, and all your senses are engulfed by the indescribable views outside the windows. It’s pure magic.
Could you describe the view from space?
Magical. Almost indescribable. Earth is exceptionally bright and clear, and the black of space is this deep, dark black that feels endless. Set against the blackness of space you can see the curve of the Earth and its colors like never before, from the blue of the water to the mosaic of green, tan and white of the land. On my first spaceflight there was snow on the mountains, which was so bright from space that it looked like the mountains were glistening.
The whole experience is in a higher definition than anything I’ve ever seen, and pictures don’t do it justice. The human eye and human heart can take in so much more and, during that moment of stillness when time seems to stop at apogee, the Earth is also still below you — it seems to almost breathe below you — and you can drink it in. It’s a beautiful reminder that Earth is a living planet; it’s like seeing Mother Nature herself.
What is the training like for the experience?
Training begins three days before your spaceflight, when you’ll join your crew members — fellow customers, pilots and your cabin lead — at Spaceport America in New Mexico, the world’s first purpose-built commercial spaceport. The first day of training is all about you. You’ll be suited up in your spacesuit and personal equipment, and we’ll go through what you can expect: from the sights and sounds to how to make yourself comfortable during high G force. It’s all about making sure you feel ready from the start by ensuring you have an understanding of everything.
On the second day, we take astronauts on an aerobatic flight above Spaceport America so you can feel high G and weightlessness in a small plane. Then, it’s all about the cabin. We’ll go through how to get in and out of your seat and discuss where you want to go once you’re unbuckled. We’ll also do required emergency drills.
The final training day expands to the full operation, where we go through the details of launch day as well as a final dress rehearsal. We also host a master class with people who recently flew on a Virgin Galactic spaceflight to give our astronauts the opportunity to connect with them and hear about their experience. And then on day four, it’s launch day!
What would you like people to take away from the experience?
I’d love to see people coming back from space with a feeling of joy and love that stays with them for the rest of their lives. I hope that people walk away with a transformed and elevated relationship with our planet that they can then pass on and use to inspire others back on Earth.
What are your predictions for the future of space travel?
We are at an inflection point in history right now, where space travel is becoming more accessible than it ever has been. Humans are now in space for good, and we’re working together across the industry to build a future where space is no longer just a far-off dream but a tangible reality. The fascination with space is as strong as ever, driven by humanity’s inherent desire for new discoveries and innovation.