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Mike Masucci ’81 Pilots Virgin Galactic Into Space

Shortly before the crack of dawn in New Mexico on July 11, 2021, billionaire Richard Branson, along with five Virgin Galactic employees, boarded the SpaceShipTwo, a winged plane with a single rocket motor that the company has spent nearly two decades developing. Attached beneath its massive, twin-fuselaged mothership, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, the spaceship took to the skies at 8:30 am and climbed to about 50,000 feet in the air.

About 45 minutes later, the SpaceShipTwo detached from its mothership and dropped momentarily before the vehicle swooped upward. On board, the passengers experienced up to three Gs of force from the burst of extreme acceleration and watched the blue sky fade into the darkness of outer space. At the top of the flight path, more than 50 miles high, the aircraft was suspended in weightlessness for a few minutes, allowing the passengers to enjoy panoramic views of the Earth and space as SpaceShipTwo flipped onto its belly. It then deployed its feathering system, which curls the plane's wings upward, mimicking the shape of a badminton shuttlecock, to turn the spaceship rightward as it flew back into the Earth's atmosphere and glided back down to a runway landing.

Co-piloting the aircraft was Mike “Sooch” Masucci, a 1981 alum of La Salle College High School who has more than 30 years of civilian and military flying experience and over 9,000 flight hours in 70 different aircraft.

A graduate of the U.S. Air Force Academy (USAF), Mike took flying lessons while at the Academy and earned his Private Pilot certificate, while majoring in Astronautics. After graduation, he attended Undergraduate Pilot Training at Vance Air Force Base and then remained there as a T-38 instructor pilot as a First Assignment Instructor Pilot (FAIP).

After three years as a FAIP, Mike was selected to fly the U-2 high-altitude long-endurance airplane. He eventually became in an instructor in the U-2 as well as the T-38, while still serving in deployments. His longest mission was 12 hours (13 hours in a space suit).

He was selected to attend the USAF Test Pilot School and became a U-2 test pilot, where he was instrumental in the development and testing of the aircraft’s glass cockpit and power upgrade programs. After a few years as a U-2 test pilot, he returned to Test Pilot School as an instructor and served as Branch Chief. In that role he flew the T-38, the F-16, gliders, and glider tow ships.

Mike retired from the Air Force as a Lieutenant Colonel and joined XOJET Inc., a private airline, where he flew a Citation X (CE750), accumulating 750 hours every year in Part 135 operations. He did that for several years, then received a call from Virgin Galactic. He is multi-current, flying the White Knight as well as the space ship (both aircraft have identical cockpit designs). Mike was selected to fly the second mission into space and earned astronaut wings on February 22, 2019.

“Virgin Galactic is truly a world-class organization with unique flight opportunities that you just won’t find anywhere else,” Masucci said. “I’m proud to be a part of this team and look forward to contributing to this revolutionary program.”

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