SPACEPORT AMERICA, N.M. (KRQE) – Targeting another trial before the anticipated start of commercial space flights, Virgin Galactic says a native New Mexican will join the crew of a planned late-May test flight. The space company made the announcement today, naming Las Cruces native Jamila Gilbert to the crew of four astronauts and two pilots on the VSS (Virgin Spaceship) Unity.
According to Virgin, Gilbert will be among the first 100 women to reach space. The company highlighted her background in a news release, saying Gilbert is a Latina woman with Purépechan-Mexican roots who studied linguistics, museum conservation, anthropology and studio art. “To represent Latinas, women our teammates our community here in New Mexico and the area, it is just a dream and such a profound honor and I feel incredibly lucky,” said Gilbert.
Gilbert is also an NMSU grad and has led Virgin Galactic’s internal communications team since 2019. The company says she’s “well placed to evaluate our customer readiness program” because her background isn’t from “a technical or engineering perspective.”
The planned late-May space flight will be the 25th flight for the Unity spacecraft. Virgin Galactic says the crew will focus on “a final assessment of the full spaceflight system and astronaut experience before commercial service opens in late June.”
In late April, Virgin successfully conducted a glide flight with the Unity. It marked the first time the spaceship has flown through New Mexico skies since the company’s only other fully crewed flight in summer 2021.
The first native New Mexican to fly on Virgin’s spacecraft, Gilbert will be joined by three other astronauts in the flight cabin, including Chris Huie, Luke Mays and Beth Moses. Mays and Moses will serve as astronaut and chief astronaut instructors on the flight. Huie is an aerospace engineer and senior manager for the company’s flight sciences engineering team.
Virgin has yet to outline exactly which day in May the crew will make the flight. Mike Masucci has been named the commander of the Unity 25 flight, while CJ Sturckow will be the flight’s pilot. The Unity’s carrier aircraft, the VMS Eve, will be piloted by commander Jameel Janjua and pilot Nicola Pecile.
After the expected May test flight, Virgin says it should be ready to take its first commercial flight, Galactic 01, in late June. As of the end of 2022, Virgin said it had collected approximately 800 spaceflight tickets worth $101 million in deposits and fees from “future astronauts.”
Gilbert said her husband was there when she got the news and seeing her parent’s reaction was priceless. “It caught them off guard it was a pause and their eyes just went really wide and then they were super super excited but it was a double take did we hear you right?” said Gilbert.
While her family will be watching from the ground, she’ll be taking a piece of them with her to space. “I will be taking with me photos of my family, I’m going to take a few small drawings and some artwork and I’m also going to be taking some turquoise from the state of New Mexico,” said Gilbert.
According to Virgin Galactic, Gilbert will be among the first 100 women to reach space.