Virgin Galactic to take planetary scientist Alan Stern into space
Virgin Galactic is a private space company with big ambitions, and among them are using its SpaceShipTwo spaceplane as a platform for scientific research. It has been revealed today that planetary scientist Alan Stern will be among the first humans to be carried into space by this aircraft, where he’ll take a hands-on approach to a pair of high-altitude experiments.
Stern was the principal investigator for NASA’s New Horizons mission and now plies his trade as a planetary scientist at the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), where he is vice president of the Space Science and Engineering Division. He will fly to space aboard the SpaceShipTwo from Virgin Galactic’s facility in New Mexico on a suborbital mission that is yet to be scheduled.
“This is the first selection of a private-sector researcher to fly with NASA funding on commercial vehicles,” Stern said
Virgin Galactic has been busy testing its spaceplane at its Spaceport America after relocating to the New Mexico facility in February this year. These included glide tests and in-flight maneuvers, with preparations now underway for its first visit to space from the facility, which is expected to take place in the US fall.
No date is set for the flight that will take Stern into space for the first time, but SwRI has revealed a little about the NASA-funded experiments he will take with him. During the two-hour-flight, Stern will use a low light camera to explore its capacity to make astronomical observations. The second experiment will see Stern fitted out with instruments to monitor his vital signs as part of a biomedical investigation.
“Going to work in space myself for the first time after having spent so many years sending machines there to do the research for me is going to be a major career highlight, and something I am honored to be selected for,” said Stern. “But I hope this is just the first of a steady stream of flights by SwRI researchers doing work in space in the years and decades ahead.”
Source: Southwest Research Institute