A veteran of three spaceflights (including a stint commander) Former NASA astronaut Terry Virts has orbited the planet more than 3,400 times. Now, Virts said, he wants to create another orbit around the planet, possibly setting a world record.
Virts and the founder of a consulting firm called Action Aviation, Hamish Harding, are leading an effort to travel across both poles around planet Earth from 9-1
The present record attempt is being made in a smaller jet: the Gulfstream G650ER aircraft has a range of more than 7,500 miles before it has to be refueled. The plane reaches Mach 0.925 and reaches a speed of Mach 0.85.
The aircraft will take off from the Shuttle Landing Facility and the Kennedy Space Center on July 9 with a crew of four pilots. The launch is scheduled for 9:32 ET, at the same time as the Saturn V rocket was launched on 16 July 1969 from the Kennedy Space Center with the crew of the Apollo 11 mission.
"To commemorate the 50th anniversary of Apollo in honor of the past, present and future of space exploration, we will attempt to set a world speed record for polar orbiting," said Virts, who made a documentary about the project, to Ars.
The first leg of the 22,422 nautical mile journey leads from Florida over the North Pole and lands in the Kazakh Nur-Sultan to refuel. There, Virts' former crewmate on the space station, the Russian cosmonaut Gennady Padalka, gets into the flight "in the spirit of international cooperation".
From there, the mission will come to a halt on Mauritius. After that, the longest leg will be from Africa via the South Pole to Punta Arenas, Chile, before finally returning to Florida. With the short refueling stops of 45 minutes Virts hopes for an average speed of 516 miles per hour, breaking the current record by 23 minutes.
After the flight, the record must be certified by the Fédération Aéronautique Internationale. Virts said the flight will be "carbon neutral" with the goal of planting 1,000 trees to offset carbon emissions. The journey will be broadcast live, as far as possible.