British businessman Richard Branson has successfully flown to the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic rocket jet airliner, days before a rival launch by Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, as the two billionaires scrambled to usher in a new era of space tourism. .
Nearly two decades after Branson founded Virgin Galactic to develop commercial spacecraft and cater to future space tourists, the spacecraft entered suborbital flight on Sunday morning, reaching 55 miles (88 km) above the Earth’s surface. Launch was delayed until 10.40 ET due to weather conditions at Virgin Galactic’s operating base at Spaceport America in the New Mexico desert.
The long-awaited excursion, which Branson told in a pre-recorded video that he had been dreaming of since the moon landing in 1969, lasted 59 minutes from start to finish and passengers experienced several minutes of weightlessness.
Branson, 70, arrived at the spaceport on a bicycle Sunday morning and greeted his crewmates with a hug. “It’s a beautiful day to go into space,” he tweeted.
Branson flew with pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor, Virgin Galactic’s chief operations engineer Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of research operations and government affairs.
The VMS EVE carrier plane, named after Branson’s late mother, dragged the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity to an altitude of about 50,000 feet and then launched the VSS Unity rocket plane, which ascended further into space.
During the live footage, Branson and his fellow astronauts were seen strapped to the seats, wearing sunglasses as they smiled.
The livestream was hosted by comedian Stephen Colbert, former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield and future Virgin Galactic astronaut Kellie Gerardi, who will also fly into space on a research flight in 2022.
In nine days, Bezos will launch his own rocket, New Shepard, named for Alan Shepard, the first American astronaut in space, which was manufactured by Bezos’ company Blue Origin.
New Shepard will take on Bezos and five others, including his brother, Mark, and pilot Wally Funk, who was denied an astronaut job in the 1960s because he was a woman, approximately 100 kilometers above Earth’s surface. .
On Saturday, Blue Origin tweeted a message from good luck to Virgin Galactic, after tweeting the shadow on Friday, when he alluded to whether Unity 22 is actually going into space, rather than just on the edge of space.