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Virgin Galactic’s first space tourists had a ‘surreal experience’


By Ashley Strickland, CNN

(CNN) — The dreams we have as children often stick with us for the rest of our lives.

And if your dream involved venturing to the stars, space tourism has opened up another avenue for those who didn’t study to become astronauts — albeit at a hefty price.

Those who have been willing to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for a ticket to ride to the edge of space have also endured a lengthy wait, and for most of them it’s not over yet.

Billionaire Richard Branson founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, and it built up a backlog of 800 paying passengers. After years of missed deadlines, the company finally started delivering on its long-promised journeys with an inaugural commercial launch in June funded by the Italian air force.

Now, three more space travelers have a cosmic tale to tell.

Defying gravity

Virgin Galactic’s rocket-powered space plane carried its first group of tourists on a brief trip Thursday.

The lucky trio included the first Olympian and mother-daughter duo to travel to space.

Entrepreneur and health and wellness coach Keisha Schahaff and her daughter Anastatia Mayers were the first space travelers from Antigua. They were joined by Jon Goodwin, who competed as a canoeist in the 1972 Munich Summer Games and became the second person with Parkinson’s disease to travel to space.

Mayers said she was “starstruck” by the experience of glimpsing Earth, and Goodwin described the hour-long journey as “a completely surreal experience.”

Separately, Russia and India are in a lunar space race to see which of their respective uncrewed spacecraft will land on the moon first in a couple of weeks.

We are family

A 300,000-year-old skull unearthed in China is unlike anything researchers have seen before.

The discovery, dubbed HLD 6, may suggest a new branch of the human family tree.

The skull’s lower jaw has particularly confounded scientists because it combines features of Homo sapiens and another ancient human relative — the mysterious Denisovans. And like Denisovans, HLD 6 did not seem to have a true chin.

The find has sparked questions about a pivotal point in the evolutionary history of early human relatives, or hominins, that began in the late Middle Pleistocene.


The world’s oldest moss known to science grows on the “roof of the world” in the harsh environment of the Tibetan Plateau.

The 390 million-year-old Takakia has quickly adapted time and time again as the planet changes. But the tough survivor may not evolve fast enough to survive the climate crisis.

A daring team of researchers scaled the Himalayas in 18 expeditions spanning a decade to study the moss. The plant may go extinct within 100 years despite playing a pivotal role in creating conditions hospitable to animals and riding out the upheaval of early Earth.

Meanwhile, the International Whaling Commission released its first extinction alert for the critically endangered vaquita porpoise because only a handful remain.

The night sky

Prepare for a dazzling celestial display.

The Perseid meteor shower will peak this weekend on the evenings of August 12 and 13.

More than 50 meteors per hour are expected to streak across the sky before dawn.

The waning crescent moon will only be 10% illuminated, so it shouldn’t interfere with meteor viewing. If possible, find a spot outside the city to avoid light pollution, check the forecast to make sure the weather agrees with your plans, and enjoy the scintillating show.

Once upon a planet

Newly discovered reptile skulls in China have helped scientists determine how an unusual marine creature that lived 247 million years ago ate like a whale — a mystery they have been puzzling over for decades.

The reptile, named Hupehsuchus nanchangensis, was able to expand its throat to take in big gulps, filtering out tons of shrimplike prey. The technique is exactly how some modern whales eat by filter feeding.

Meanwhile, a fossil find in Egypt may represent one of the tiniest early whale species, and an Egyptian-led team of researchers named the extinct creature after the Pharoah Tutankhamen.

Separately, an international team of scientists sliced into a fossilized piece of ancient poop uncovered in Thailand, revealing insights about a crocodile-like reptilian carnivore and the parasites that plagued it more than 200 million years ago.


Sit back and relax with these stories:

— Earth is warming up, and animals have evolved unique tactics to beat the heat, such as “splooting,” shape-shifting and spitting.

— A Bronze Age arrowhead discovered in Switzerland was made of iron derived from a meteorite nearly 3,000 years ago.

— The James Webb Space Telescope captured a colorful look at the most distant star ever observed, and it’s about 1 million times more luminous than our sun.

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