After 17 years of development, Virgin Galactic finally made the dream of founder Richard Branson come true. The British business magnate and adventurer finally reached space, becoming the first billionaire to do so in the process.
Dream of a Lifetime
The Virgin Galactic founder called the spaceflight the “complete experience of a lifetime” as he reached outer space for the first time and saw Earth from a distance. “I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, and honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson later said of his experience.
Richard Branson, along with two pilots and three crew members, flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity. A carrier aircraft the VMS Eve hitched Unity to 40,000 feet, where it fired its own rocket engine. To escape the Earth’s atmosphere, Unity had to reach speeds that are three times the speed of sound.
Richard Branson Reaches Outer Space
Upon reaching outer space, VSS Unity performed a slow backflip. This caused the passengers, including Branson, to become weightless and float around in the cabin. Ultimately, Unity ascended to an altitude of 53.5 miles (86.1 kilometers or 282,000 feet). It then proceeded to return to base by gliding through the atmosphere.
Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flew Unity. In addition to Richard Branson, the Unit crew included chief astronaut trainer Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett and VP of government affairs Sirisha Bandla. Mackay, Masucci, and Moses previously, ade trip to space. By definition, pilots who reached an altitude above 80 kilometers are deemed, astronauts.
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Space Travel Becoming a Reality
With Branson’s successful flight, space tourism is slowly becoming a reality for companies like Virgin, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origins, and Elon Musk’s SpaceX. With Sunday’s flight, Branson became the first billionaire space company owner to ride his own spacecraft.
In fact, the hype surrounding Unity’s flight boosted Virgin’s profile and managed to gather 600 reservations for tickets on future flights. However, reservation seats cost between $200,000 to $250,000.
In a statement after the flight, Branson said that ultimately, the goal is to make spaceflight accessible. “We’re here to make space more accessible to all at all. The mission statement that I wrote inside my spacesuit was to turn the dream of space travel into a reality for my grandchildren, and for many people who are alive today, for everybody.”
This is Virgin Galactic’s fourth spaceflight, and the second one this year. It plans two other flights later this year. However, this is the first time the flight carried more than one passenger.
In addition to flying Branson, the spaceflight continued to test its spacecraft system. Plus, the four crew members are testing the spacecraft’s cabin and its own proprietary training program. Additionally, Bandla performs a research experiment involving plants in test tubes for the University of Florida.
In addition, Richard Branson also announced that Virgin Galactic will partner with sweepstakes company Omaze for a raffle promotion offering two free seats to a Virgin spaceflight. “You have a chance to go to space,” Branson said.
Each entry to the sweepstakes will require a donation to the non-profit called Space For Humanity. Branson added that he will put on his “Willy Wonka hat” to give the winners a guided tour of Spaceport America.“It’s a way of just trying to get lots of people who couldn’t otherwise afford to go to space, to go to space,” Branson said.
Watch the CNET Highlights of Virgin Galactic’s launch including founder Richard Branson to space (first zero-G!)
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