He did it … he just did it. And, in fine style.
Impeccable, billionaire space buccaneer style.
And man, am I ever so disappointed, that I sold my Virgin Galactic stock. Because I know, it will go crazy, on Monday.
Serves me right, for not believing in the dream … the dream of space travel, for you and me.
As you probably heard, billionaire adventurer Richard Branson became the first person to ride into space aboard a rocket he helped fund, CNN Business reported.
The supersonic space plane developed by his company, Virgin Galactic, soared into the sky over New Mexico, carrying Branson and three crewmembers.
Branson — along with Virgin Galactic employees Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci — boarded SpaceShipTwo, a futuristic winged plane with a single rocket motor.
Attached beneath its massive, twin-fuselaged mothership, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, the vehicle took to the skies and climbed to about 50,000 feet, CNN reported.
As planned, SpaceShipTwo detached from its mothership and dropped momentarily before its engine screamed to life, in Chuck Yeager X-1 style.
On board, the passengers experienced up to three Gs from the burst of extreme acceleration and watched the blue sky fade into the darkness.
At the top of the flight path, more than 50 miles high, the vehicle was suspended in weightlessness, allowing the passengers to enjoy panoramic views of the Earth and space as SpaceShipTwo flipped onto its belly, CNN reported.
From there, the pilots guided the spaceplane through a spiraling descent, lined up on Spaceport America’s 12,000-foot-long runway and settled to a picture-perfect landing, closing out a flight that lasted 59 minutes from takeoff to touchdown.
In a press conference after the flight, he said he wasn’t nervous about the trip.
“We have nearly 1,000 of the best engineers in the world” who pored over every inch of the spacecraft, he said. His only concern, he said, was the possibility of a delay. “The only thing I was worried about was some tiny little something that would get in the way, something that would stop us from getting into space.”
He called the experience “just magical … I’m just taking it all in.” And added that, “having flown to space, I can see more clearly how Virgin Galactic is the spaceline for Earth.”
He pumped both fists as he stepped out onto the runway and ran toward his family, bear-hugging his wife and children and scooping up his three grandchildren in his arms.
He admitted later, that he carried their pictures as a momento, in his space suit.
This flight marked only the fourth test flight of the vehicle that reached the edge of space. Surrounding SpaceShipTwo’s takeoff was — in typical Branson fashion — a high-production party with friends, family, employees and several VIPs, CNN reported.
Branson’s flight — which came just nine days before Amazon bilionaire Jeff Bezos is slated to rocket into suborbital space — is a landmark moment for the commercial space industry.
The sector has for years been seeking to make suborbital space tourism a viable business with the aim of allowing thousands of people to experience the adrenalin rush and sweeping views of our home planet.
Branson and Bezos are situated to become direct competitors in that industry, each offering tickets to wealthy customers for brief rides to the upper atmosphere.
More than 600 people have reserved tickets priced at US$200,000 to US$250,000 so far. The company is expected to reopen ticket sales soon, though at a higher price point, CNN reported.
Bezos’ space company, Blue Origin, appeared poised to put its founder in space before Branson, until Virgin Galactic made the surprise announcement that he would be on the very next test flight.
Bezos’ flight, slated for July 20, could kick off the company’s commercial operations sooner than that, and one of his fellow passengers on the flight is a paying customer, having won a ticket through a charity auction for the price of US$28 million.
The company has not yet begun selling tickets to the public, however, nor has it set a specific date for when it plans to do so.
Neither company is expected to offer tickets that are affordable to the average person. However, Branson did tease a big “announcement” about his effort to “democratize space.”
Flush with success, he announced a charity sweepstakes benefitting Space for Humanity, saying two winners will be selected to join one of the initial commercial flights.
The Swiss-based investment bank UBS has estimated the potential value of the space tourism market reaching US$3 billion annually by 2030.
Sources: CNN Business, FOX News, CBS News, Reuters