New Mexico-born Jamila Gilbert flies to space - Albuquerque Journal

New Mexico-born Jamila Gilbert flies to space

This photo released by Virgin Galactic shows mission specialist Jamila Gilbert, center, looking out one of the portal windows as she experiences weightlessness during a test flight on Thursday, May 25, 2023. (Virgin Galactic via AP)

Jamila Gilbert had been waiting for the moment — when Virgin Galactic’s VMS Eve mothership released the VSS Unity rocketship.

“That moment delivered. Every bit,” Gilbert said in an interview. “It was it was a phenomenal feeling of a free fall. And then came my next favorite moment, which was so enjoyable, and it was the literal rocket ride.”

Gilbert, who oversees internal communications for Virgin Galactic, talked with Journal shortly after safely landing back at Spaceport America in southern New Mexico on Thursday. She was on the flight to evaluate what the trip will be like for paying customers.

Virgin Galactic completed a successful spaceflight. The Eve mothership ferried the rocketship to around 44,000 feet, at which time the aircraft released from each other and Unity fired up its rocket motors and went into suborbit. It was 25th flight for Unity, and Virgin Galactic’s fifth spaceflight.

The rocketship soared 54 miles above Earth before gliding back to down with the six-member crew, which included two pilots.

It was Gilbert’s first flight to space. The 34-year-old from Las Cruces is a graduate of New Mexico State University. She is now one of fewer than 100 women to fly to the cosmos and just the 16th Hispanic person to be in space.

She described holding onto her shoulder straps and looking out the front window of the aircraft as it turned to black when the crew entered space. To her side she could see the curvature of the Earth.

“Then you start to decelerate and you started to feel weightless,” she said. “It was a magical moment.”

Gilbert said she had imagined she would float around the cabin of the aircraft experiencing weightlessness for the first time.

“But what happened is that I just got caught up in to looking at the Earth,” she said. “The darkness and the contrast to the brilliance (of the earth) and the detail. It was hyper-real.”

The crew stayed in the weightless environment for several minutes before starting the descent.

“The most incredible thing happened, we looked off and it was perfect symmetry. The crescent moon was just perfectly centered” over the Earth, Gilbert said.

It was Virgin Galactic’s first flight to space in nearly two years when company founder Sir Richard Branson was part of a crew who flew to space from New Mexico.

Since then, Virgin Galactic has been working on maintenance and upgrades to both Eve and Unity in anticipation of paying customers. The company plans to next send an Italian Air Force Crew to space for research and training, and then initiating regular monthly flights for space tourists starting sometime later this summer.

The next step will be for Virgin Galactic to analyze data from Thursday’s flight and inspect the planes and other equipment.

Jeff Michael, a spokesman for Virgin Galactic, said although flight data hasn’t been analyzed, the mission appeared to go as planned and there was a celebratory environment complete with speeches and toasts after the safe landing. Gilbert had family and friends in attendance, as was Branson.

Interested in going for a flight? Tickets are around $450,000 apiece.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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