Andres Leighton / AP
Sir Richard Branson and a crew of three others fell on the edge of space on Sunday in a rocket made by the company of British billionaire Virgin Galactic. The flight opens a new chapter in the world of aeronautics, and Virgin Galactic among a handful of ambitious and well-funded ventures racing to commercialize space travel.
Rising from the spaceport of America in Las Cruces, NM, – a commercial space flight, about 180 miles south of Albuquerque – Branson was among a crew of four “mission specialists” who reached speeds three times the speed of sound.
The spacecraft, which was attached to a larger plane, was taxied across the runway at the America Space Airport before taking off around 8:40 a.m. local time.
As the mothership – piloted by two pilots – approached more than 46,000 feet above the earth’s surface, Virgin Galactic broadcast live a video of the vessel’s vignette, interviews with NASA astronauts and other material hosted by late-night comedian Stephen Colbert.
The climb to launch – where the mother ship released Galactic Unity 22 – took almost 50 minutes. Once separated, a rocket was engaged on a ship that targeted Galactic Unity 22 to a peak height of more than 282,000 feet.
Although communications with the vessel were limited, Branson could be heard saying it was a “life experience” and described the view of space from above as “beautiful”.
He congratulated those involved in the project, including his crew.
He was joined in the Galactic Unity by 22 three employees from Virgin Galactic Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, chief operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations.
Branson and three others in the ship were weightless moments before Galactic Unity 22 descended.
Branson said the trip was a dream come true
Branson told NPR’s Morning Edition last week that he had longed for such a trip since he was a child.
“Once I was a kid, I was standing with my father and sister, looking at the moon, I was told Buzz and Neil were standing on it,” Branson said, referring to the famous Apollo 11 astronauts. “And I just thought, I have to go into space one day.”
Sunday’s launch was postponed by about 90 minutes from the original start time, as overnight weather conditions resulted in a delay in the spacecraft leaving its hangar. But as the sun rose, conditions at the launch site seemed favorable for the flight.
The first registration of the name Virgin Galactic in 2004, Branson’s effort to launch into space required the work of hundreds of engineers and millions of dollars. Once they believed it could take six or seven years to achieve the goal of going into space, it took more than twice as long for Branson’s company, which suffered a fatal test flight in 2014.
Billionaires like Branson are putting their pages into space
Branson – whose 71st birthday is a week from Sunday – is one of three billionaire businessmen to launch commercial space flights.
Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon and owner of the company Washington Post, is scheduled to launch its Blue Origin company into space on July 20th. In June, Bezos bid first place on the company’s New Shepherd spacecraft for $ 28 million.
Elon Musk, CEO and chief engineer of Space X, was also looking to create the possibility of a commercial space flight.
Although the competition between the three men has been a major point in recent months, Branson and Musk appear to have been in a celebratory mood on the Sunday before the Virgin Galactic flight.
“A big day ahead of us. It’s great to start the morning with a friend. It feels good, you feel excited, you feel ready,” Branson tweeted in the morning, posting a photo of himself with Musk.
After a series of exchanges on the social media platform, Musk responded with a tweet “Godspeed!”
Virgin Galactic’s current flagship, the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, has a maximum capacity of eight people, including two pilots and six passengers.
The company intends to begin launching customers in 2022, and tickets are selling for $ 250,000. More than 600 people have already bought tickets for space jogging.