Feb 19, 2019

The Engine Powering the Future of Civilian Spaceflight Enters the Collections

Posted by in categories: futurism, space travel

Eight-year-old George Madden is wandering the “Moving Beyond Earth” gallery of the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum on a blustery day in February. Clad in an orange spacesuit, he is examining the artifacts—the main engine from the Space Shuttle, flight suits, a rotating chair from a 1992 Spacelab mission—and lingering near a display about space travel. He gazes up at words printed in large white text on the wall: “When I grow up, I want to be an astronaut.”

His father, 52-year-old Michael Madden, will soon make history as one of the first 1,000 people to travel to space. Madden is a paid customer of Virgin Galactic, one of six “future astronauts” in the crowd who will be among the first wave of passengers to be carried into space by SpaceShipTwo when the company begins its commercial flights, maybe as soon as before the end of the year. Madden and his son, along with other space aficionados, are in the museum for a donation ceremony. Sir Richard Branson, founder of the Virgin Group, and Enrico Palermo, president of the Spaceship Company, are turning over the hybrid engine that powered Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, on its first space flight on December 13, 2018.

The crowd hushes as Ellen Stofan, the director of the museum, steps to the podium. “SpaceShipTwo’s rocket motor is an exciting addition to the national collection of milestone spaceflight artifacts,” she says. “It is a unique piece of history that represents a new era in space travel and is sure to inspire the next generation of innovators and explorers.”

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