MOJAVE, Calif. – Sixteen months after Virgin Galactic’s first SpaceShipTwo rocket plane was lost amid tragedy, the second SpaceShipTwo was christened Virgin Spaceship Unity with a smashed bottle of milk and a big gulp of celebrity glitz.
Hundreds of employees, VIPs and would-be spacefliers gathered on Feb. 19 for the craft’s official rollout at the Final Assembly, Integration and Test Hangar, or FAITH, here at the Mojave Air and Space Port. And although British theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking couldn’t attend the ceremony in person, he read out the rocket plane’s new name in an audio clip.
“We are entering a new space age, and I hope this will help to create a new unity,” said Hawking, who has been guaranteed a free spaceflight if he’s up to it when VSS Unity enters service. “Space exploration has already been a great unifier. We seem able to cooperate between nations in space, in a way we can only envy on Earth.”
Then Virgin Galactic’s founder, British billionaire Richard Branson, arranged for the official christening to be done by his granddaughter, Eva Deia, who was born exactly one year ago today.
“I’m pretty sure a 1-year-old has never christened a spaceship before, so we really are in virgin territory,” Branson quipped. “Today seems to the right time to change that, as we after all are celebrating the birth of two gorgeous ladies.”