The first SpaceShipTwo vehicle, V.S.S. Enterprise, crashed during a test flight in 2014, killing one of the pilots. Virgin Galactic was then grounded until Unity was completed a year and a half later.
In 2019, Virgin Galactic came close to another catastrophe when a seal on a rear horizontal stabilizer ruptured because a new thermal protection film had been improperly installed.
The mishap was revealed this year in the book “Test Gods: Virgin Galactic and the Making of a Modern Astronaut” by Nicholas Schmidle, a staff writer at The New Yorker. The book quotes Todd Ericson, then the vice president for safety and test at Virgin Galactic, saying, “I don’t know how we didn’t lose the vehicle and kill three people.”
Mr. Bezos’ flight is to take place about 200 miles to the southeast of Spaceport America in Van Horn, Texas, where his rocket company, Blue Origin, launches its New Shepard rocket and capsule.
Although Blue Origin has yet to fly any people on New Shepard, 15 successful uncrewed tests of the fully automated system convinced the company it would be safe to put Mr. Bezos on the first flight with people aboard.
He will be joined by his brother, Mark, and Mary Wallace Funk, an 82-year-old pilot. In the 1960s, she was among a group of women who passed the same rigorous criteria that NASA used for selecting astronauts, but the space agency at the time had no interest in selecting women as astronauts. A fourth unnamed passenger paid $28 million in an auction for one of the seats.