Billionaire Richard Branson and his crew successfully flew to the lower edge of space and back to earth in the first fully crewed flight from his private space tourism firm Virgin Galactic.
“What a day. What a day. What a day,” Branson said at a news conference following the historic flight. “I think like most kids I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid and honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space.”
“It’s just magical. I’m just taking it all in. It’s just unreal,” said Branson, who popped a bottle of champagne after he and his crew were presented their Virgin Galactic astronaut wings.
The Unity 22 mission lifted off from the New Mexico desert and after about 30 minutes later, reached an altitude of 46,000 feet, which is higher than commercial airlines.
Branson served as a mission specialist on the flight, the fourth crewed spaceflight for Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spacecraft. Unity was launched from the Eve mothership at an altitude of 50,000 feet and live stream video showed it shooting into space. Within 30 seconds the spacecraft reached Mach 2 speed and a few seconds later hit Mach 3 at an altitude of weightlessness.
The live stream showed Branson and his crew smiling as they looked out the window of the spaceship. They also briefly unbuckled their seatbelts to float around the cabin.
In about an hour, the spacecraft returned to earth, making a smooth landing back in New Mexico. Cheers and loud applause can be heard at the mission control.