Second trip to space for Moses proves 'more majestic'
Colin Bennett was all-consumed with the task.
He needed a teammate to bring him back to reality, and Beth Moses was happy to oblige.
“Don’t forget to look out the window,” Bennett said he heard Moses shout during their suborbital flight on Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity Sunday.
Wouldn’t seem like a needed reminder, but space was an entirely new experience for Bennett. And he was busy for the first part of the flight, making sure to get his checks done.
Moses, though, wasn’t a first-timer.
She became the first female commercial astronaut in 2019, when she flew aboard VSS Unity to test the cabin for future flights. That trip produced valuable perspective, both in space and leading into the company’s first fully crewed flight on July 11.
Moses (BSAAE, MSAAE) was happy to share both with fellow AAE alumna Sirisha Bandla, Bennett and Sir Richard Branson, the other three “mission specialists” on the flight.
As Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor, Moses spent months after her first flight in February 2019 — the one that secured her place in Purdue’s Cradle of Astronauts — reviewing all the flight data and revising the training program in the cabin for future tests and future customers. But it wasn’t just all technical. The idea was to perfect the cabin experience. In advance of the July 11 flight, for which she was cabin lead and test director, she prepared Bennett, Bandla and Branson for what to expect, down to the smallest detail.
The “light” feeling of a free fall, after Unity is dropped from the mothership, VMS Eve.
The wicked g-force when the rocket motor lights, pushing one back in the seat, as the spaceplane goes supersonic in less than 8 seconds.
The compression downward into the seat as the pilots turn Unity toward space, riding flat on one’s back for about a minute.
The transition as the sky goes pitch black.
The feeling of weightlessness taking over.
Then, the real magic, as Moses says: Seeing the Earth. (She literally gasped when she saw it the first time.)
She can describe her experience over and over but knows it’ll never do the real thing justice, and she reminded others to make sure they soaked it all in.
After those minutes in awe — balanced with conducting necessary business on the flight — at apogee, the highest point of the flight, the pilots turn back and the final surge comes. Once again, compressed into the seat until the spaceplane breaks back into the atmosphere.
In an interview after landing, Branson and Bandla praised Moses for that preparation and detail.
“Beth Moses, our chief astronaut instructor, prepared us so well,” Bandla said in an interview with CNN. “It’s not only training and operations and emergency procedures, it’s preparing for the experience. So I was sitting in the spaceship, I knew it was real. I knew exactly what to expect, so I could focus on the views and the experience, and it was just incredible.”
Even knowing what to expect, Moses still made sure to absorb each moment on Trip 2.
“Truly phenomenal the second time,” Moses told reporters in the post-flight press conference, streamed by ABC News. “I would say it was more majestic, more beautiful and, of course, shared with more souls. I couldn’t be more pleased or proud of everything.”
Her mouth dropped open again, as she peered at the pale blue dot.
The exhilaration was evident even strapped in, when she high-fived Branson to commemorate the arrival, and later as she bounded around the cabin, untethered. And, once the spaceplane landed, she literally hopped on the runway, arms raised. And when she was on a makeshift stage outside afterward, shaking a champagne bottle and unleashing its contents on Branson, smiling widely.
Perhaps the one quiet moment on the ground afterward, at least viewable to the public, was when she spoke in the press conference about what she’d brought with her.
Her voice softened.
“Inside our suits, we have inner pockets, and I tucked as many flowers in my inner pocket as I could,” she said, “for my loved ones and to represent life.”