Billionaire Richard Branson is all set to travel to the edge of the space on Sunday (July 11) as part of his astro-tourism venture, Virgin Galactic Holding Inc (SPCE.N).
The “tie-loathing adventurer and troublemaker”, as the 71-year-old Branson describes himself on Twitter, will join five company employees for the test flight that will take off from New Mexico on Sunday. The event will be telecast live.
VSS Unity is SPCE.N’s passenger rocket and the Sunday voyage will be its first fully crewed test flight to the edge of space. Unity will be fixed to a unique double aircraft nicknamed Eve after Richard Branson’s late mother.
It is Unity’s 22nd test flight and Virgin Galactic Holding Inc’s fourth crewed mission into the space. However, Sunday’s flight will be the first to take space travelers – two pilots and four “mission specialists”.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 10, 2021
At 50,000 feet, the plane’s motor will be shut off for a minute before it restarts to begin its descent towards Earth at more than 3 G speed, or three times the force of Earth’s gravity. As the plane halts at 55 miles (89 km) above the New Mexico desert for a minute, all passengers, except the pilots, will get to unbuckle themselves, float and look out at Earth below and space above.
The 90-minute flight back to Earth will start from New Mexico and conclude at Spaceport America near the town of Truth or Consequences.
Who else is flying with Branson?
Two pilots – Scottish-born David Mackay and Michael Masucci – will be accompanied by chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, Branson himself, operations engineer Colin Bennett and India-born company vice-president Sirisha Bandla.
After Sunday’s launch, Virgin Galactic aims to launch two more test flights in the days to come before opening up the venture to paid tourists. India Today reported that Branson intends to take more company employees to space before the first of the 500+ ticket holders don the astronaut’s suit next year.
The initial tickets were sold for $250,000 and yet there is no confirmation if the prices will not change in the days to come.
Edge over Bezos
Branson’s Sunday flight, if successful, will also give Branson a chance to best rival Jeff Bezos and his space company, Blue Origin, in what has been called “billionaire space race.” Bezos is all set to take off in Blue Origin’s suborbital rocketship, the New Shepard, later this month.
Social media reactions
Social media udders gave mixed reactions to Branson’s tweet publicising his Sunday adventure.
Elon Musk said: “Will see you there to wish you the best.”
A user asked: “What’s the carbon footprint (including raw material extraction, manufacture, transport, compute) of this launch, please?”
Yet another user said: It’s kinda sad that you & @JeffBezos couldn’t have had a pissing contest to complete the Great green belt across the Sahara fastest or feed the billions who are starving or build the most desalination plants but it’s your money.”