For Richard Branson, his long-awaited dream was fulfilled on Sunday.
The billionaire, along with five of his employees, returned to Earth after his 85-km historic flight to “the edge of space” from New Mexico as part of his astro-tourism venture, Virgin Galactic Holding Inc (SPCE.N). In a live feed, Branson described the voyage as “an experience of a lifetime”.
On touching down, Branson said: “I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space.
“The whole thing was just magical,” he said, brimming with excitement. A BBC report said his Virgin Galactic rocket plan appeared to have ascended a height of 85 km.
According to reports, a host of space industry executives, potential customers and Branson’s friends assembled at the spot to witness the launch and return.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 11, 2021
Branson aims to set a milestone in the race for commercial spaceflight service by travelling to space. This flight is the 22nd test flight for VSS Unity and its fourth manned flight to space.
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“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” Branson tweeted in the morning, posting a photo of himself with fellow billionaire and space-tourism rival Elon Musk.
The London-born founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, who turns 71 in a week, was not supposed to fly now, but he advanced his space journey after another billionaire Jeff Bezos announced plans to ride his own rocket ship into space from Texas on July 20.
VSS Unity is SPCE.N’s passenger rocket and the Sunday voyage is its first fully crewed test flight to the edge of space. Unity is 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 space. However, Sunday’s flight is the first to take space travellers – two pilots and four “mission specialists”.
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. Branson also intends to take more company employees to space before the first of the 500+ ticket holders don the astronaut’s suit next year.