Press Release

Dave Mackay: Welcoming Virgin Galactic to The Explorers Club and Meeting the Apollo 11 Astronauts

By SpaceRef Editor
March 16, 2019
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Our Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, talks about meeting the Apollo 11 crew and returning a very unique piece of space cargo.


I was privileged to be on the flight deck of SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, as we soared into space for our latest test flight, alongside co-pilot, Mike “Sooch” Massuci. In the cabin behind us, our third crew member, Beth Moses accompanied scientific payloads that we were flying for the NASA Flight Opportunities program. We also carried with us another very special piece of cargo; an item that was flown on the world’s first solar powered round the world flight, and aboard a world record breaking balloon flight – the famous Explorers Club flag.


The Explorers Club was founded in New York in 1904 as a not for profit organisation dedicated to scientific exploration of the oceans, land, air and space. For over 100 years, the club’s flag has been carried by some of the world’s greatest explorers on their amazing adventures and has helped to celebrate their wonderful achievements. So it was an incredible privilege to have that very same flag carried onboard Unity as our spaceship’s rocket motor ignited and sent us rocketing towards space at three times the speed of sound. 


As we coasted through the Earth’s upper atmosphere and into the black sky of space, marvelling at the serenity and jaw dropping views of our planet, it also meant that we were adding another inspiring chapter to the story represented by the flag.


On Saturday, I was invited to tell the tale of this flight, and the years of meticulous planning and hard work our teams completed to make it a reality, to a room of astronauts, aquanauts and other likeminded adventurers who’ve seen more of the world – and universe – than anyone would believe possible. It was The Explorers Club 115TH annual dinner and a celebration of the first humans to set foot on the moon – the Apollo 11 crew. In attendance were 10 Apollo astronauts, all of who played a vital role in the success of that incredible mission, including the second man to walk on the moon, Buzz Aldrin. 


The images of Buzz and Neil Armstrong walking on the surface of the moon was what kickstarted my own passion for space and I know it had the same impact on Richard Branson, eventually leading him to launch Virgin Galactic. 


It was an honour to spend time with these pioneers of space exploration, whose achievements have inspired millions around the world. Hearing their stories first-hand was a truly exceptional experience; I was as mesmerised by their tales on the night, as I was as a wee boy in front of the TV, at home in Scotland in 1969,  watching live as two incredible explorers set foot on a new world.


This summer marks 50 years since that Apollo 11 mission.  Until December last year, only 567 people had ever been to space. Since then, Virgin Galactic has created five new Commercial Astronauts and completed two crewed spaceflights – the first from U.S soil since the last space shuttle mission in 2011.


It was an honour to join the Apollo astronauts and speak of how their journeys still inspire us as we push on to our goal of creating the world’s first commercial spaceline.


Sir Richard Branson, Founder, Virgin Group said:


The moon landing was one of the biggest inspirations behind setting up Virgin Galactic. It is wonderful to see our Chief Pilot, Dave Mackay, sharing the story of our recent spaceflight with the Apollo 11 crew – the very people whose bravery and spirit of adventure inspired us to start Virgin Galactic in the first place. We’re lucky to have a team who share that same passion for discovery at Virgin Galactic and our team who flew the Explorers Club Flag to space have that in abundance. Dave and his fellow crew members – Co-Pilot, Mike ‘Sooch” Massucci and Chief Astronaut Instructor, Beth Moses are exceptional people. Adventures like the one they have just completed require extreme skill plus unwavering perseverance and I’m thrilled they’re part of our mission to open space for the benefit of humankind.


Dave Mackay, Chief Pilot at Virgin Galactic said:


“The Explorers Club flag has been a companion to adventurers on a long list of incredible missions. It was carried onboard Unity as our spaceship’s rocket motor ignited and sent our three-person crew rocketing towards space at three times the speed of sound. As we coasted through the Earth’s upper atmosphere and into the black sky of space, marvelling at the serenity and jaw dropping views of our planet, it was great to know that we were adding another inspiring chapter to the incredible story represented by the flag.”


George Whitesides, CEO of Virgin Galactic and The Spaceship Company said:


“It’s wonderful to see the achievements of Virgin Galactic and TSC celebrated by The Explorers Club – an institution whose members have been part of so many important adventures throughout history. The success of our last flight is testament to the world class teams at The Spaceship Company and Virgin Galactic, their hardwork and passion is not only inspiring more people to adventure but also furthering scientific research in space. Our recent spaceflights have carried NASA payloads that have studied a number of things from the impact of microgravity on plants to electromagnetic fields in space.  Combining this research with helping more people to experience the view of our planet from space is going to have a profoundly positive impact on our society as a whole.


Richard Garriott, a Private Astronaut on Soyuz TMA 13, and Board Director of The Explorers Club said:


“Virgin Galactic has just completed a historic milestone in commercial human spaceflight! In their recent flight, SpaceShipTwo carried two pilots and a third crew member, Beth Moses, who completed a series of tests in the cabin. Virgin’s SpaceShipTwo, VSS Unity, is the first privately built passenger carrying spacecraft to carry a passenger into space. The Explorers Club is very proud to have had our flags travel with expeditions that have made numerous ‘Famous Firsts’. Explorers Club Flag Expeditions were first to the North Pole, South Pole, Everest Summit, Deepest Point in the Ocean, to the Moon with Apollo 8 and the surface of the Moon with Apollo 11. In this historic year of the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11, we are pleased to add Virgin Galactic’s first piloted and crewed flight to space, to our list!”


SpaceRef staff editor.