Richard Branson arrives at Spaceport America in New Mexico on Sunday before traveling to the edge of space aboard a Virgin Galactic spaceship.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Images
British billionaire Richard Bransonhis latest and probably greatest adventure with on board his Virgin Galactic spaceplane.
Hundreds of invited guests and media representatives watched from the desert plains below at New Mexico Spaceport America as the double contrail dragged across the sky by the carrier aircraft VMS Eve was suddenly overshadowed by a third white cloud emanating from the SpaceShipTwo Unity rocket engine . About 45 minutes after takeoff, Unity broke away from Eve, the engine ignited and fired for just under a minute and reached speeds of over Mach 3.
Viewed from the surface, a diffuse but distinct white line was quickly seen, painting almost perfectly vertically and literally pointing towards the sky.
The Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceplane and mothership split as they fly high above Spaceport America near Truth and Consequences, New Mexico, on Sunday.
Patrick T. Fallon / AFP via Getty Imaes
Branson called it the “experience of a lifetime” on a static radio broadcast from Unity as it began to slide back to Earth. The ship then returned for a picture perfect landing near the same location where VMS Eve had taken off almost exactly an hour earlier. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” tweeted Branson.
VMS Eve is named after Branson’s mother, Eve, who died of COVID-19 complications in January.
“She won one last victory and managed to fight off the virus, but put all her energy into it,” Branson wrote in a blog post, citing her as an important inspiration and force behind his career. “She took gliding lessons in disguise as a boy, joined WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) during World War II … she was inventive, fearless, relentless – an entrepreneur before the word came.”
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Unity made it to an altitude of about 56 miles (90 kilometers) above the surface of the earth. Some will argue that this is lower than the generally accepted definition of space, which starts at beautiful, even 100 kilometers (62 miles). However, the U.S. military and NASA have set the dividing line at 50 miles (80 kilometers), so everything is clearly a little subjective. And for space tourism you experience weightlessness and look from every height on our home planet in front of the black emptiness of space.
Before taking off, Branson said he would “look back at our beautiful earth and take it all in and find that only 500 other people (actually 570 on Saturday) have done this”.
Also on the flight was Beth Moses, Virgin’s senior astronaut instructor, the only person who had ridden in the SpaceShipTwo passenger cabin prior to 2019. The company’s chief operations engineer, Colin Bennett, was with Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs. Bandla supervised a research experiment at the University of Florida that looked at adapting plant biology to microgravity.
Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic: Watch the Space Dream come to life
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“For the first time, the VG flights offer the opportunity to actively monitor experiments during take-off and first entry into space. This way of studying biology, experiencing takeoff and then weightlessness, is perhaps surprisingly a radical new development, ”said Rob Ferl, principal researcher of the experiment and professor of horticultural science, said in a statement. “Previously, all experiments had to wait until the spaceship was in orbit before the experiment could be monitored.”
The two Virgin Galactic pilots at the controls of Unity were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, along with former NASA astronaut CJ Sturckow and former NASA research pilot Kelly Latimer, who flew the VMS Eve.
Branson has promised to “announce something very exciting to give more people the chance to become astronauts”.
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Branson’s many adventure adventures include long-haul hot air balloon and transatlantic sailing trips.
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