Virgin Galactic rolled out a new version of its SpaceShipTwo space tourism rocket Friday as it prepares to return to flight testing for the first time since a 2014 accident destroyed the original craft, killing a pilot and setting back the nascent industry. A Land Rover with Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson standing through the sunroof pulled the ship in front of an audience inside a hangar at Southern California's Mojave Air and Space Port, where it was assembled. Branson's 1-year-old granddaughter, Eva-Deia, helped by her mother, christened the craft by breaking a little bottle of milk over its nose.
The ship, the size of a small corporate jet, was named Virgin Spaceship Unity at the suggestion of theoretical physicist Stephen Hawking, whom Branson promised a free ride into space. It is designed to be flown by a crew of two and carry up to six passengers on a high-speed suborbital flight to the fringes of space. At an altitude above 62 miles, passengers will experience a few minutes of weightlessness and see the Earth below. "When we had the accident, for about 24 hours we were wondering whether it was worth continuing, whether we should call it a day," Branson told the AP. He said engineers, astronauts and members of the public helped convince him that space travel is too important to give up on. (He still plans to be on its first commercial spaceflight.)