Tourism eyes final frontier as Richard Branson soars into space

NEW YORK: Swashbuckling entrepreneur Richard Branson hurtled into house aboard his personal winged rocket ship Sunday, beating out fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos. The almost 71-year-old Branson and 5 crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism firm reached an altitude of about 53 miles (88 km) over the New Mexico desert _ sufficient to expertise three to 4 minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth _ after which safely glided to a runway touchdown.
“The entire thing, it was simply magical,” a jubilant Branson stated after the journey residence aboard the gleaming white house aircraft, named Unity. The transient, up-and-down flight — the rocket ship’s portion took solely about 15 minutes, or about so long as Alan Shepard’s first US spaceflight in 1961 — was a splashy and unabashedly business plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to begin taking paying clients on joyrides subsequent 12 months.
Branson grew to become the primary particular person to blast off in his personal spaceship, beating Bezos by 9 days. He additionally grew to become solely the second septuagenarian to enter house. Astronaut John Glenn flew on the shuttle at age 77 in 1998.
Bezos despatched his congratulations, including: “Cannot wait to hitch the membership!” although he additionally took to Twitter earlier within the week to enumerate the methods wherein be believes his firm’s rides can be higher.
With about 500 folks watching, together with Branson’s household, a twin-fuselage plane with Unity connected beneath took off within the first stage of the flight. Unity then indifferent from the mom ship at an altitude of about eight half of miles (13 km) and fired its engine, reaching greater than Mach 3, or thrice the velocity of sound, because it pierced the sting of house. Spectators cheered, jumped into the air and embraced because the rocket aircraft touched down. Branson pumped his fists as he stepped out onto the runway and ran towards his household, bear-hugging his spouse and youngsters and scooping up his three grandchildren in his arms.
“That was an incredible accomplishment,” former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, a one-time commander of the International Space Station, stated from the sidelines. “I am simply so delighted at what this open door goes to result in now. It is an excellent second.” Virgin Galactic performed three earlier take a look at flights into house with crews of simply two or three.
The flamboyant, London-born founding father of Virgin Atlantic Airways wasn’t imagined to fly till later this summer time. However he assigned himself to an earlier flight after Bezos introduced plans to journey his personal rocket into house from Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon touchdown. Branson denied he was attempting to outdo Bezos. Branson’s different chief rival within the space-tourism race among the many world’s richest males, SpaceX’s Elon Musk, got here to New Mexico to witness the flight, wishing Branson by way of Twitter, “Godspeed!”
Bezos’ Blue Origin firm intends to ship vacationers previous the so-called Karman line 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, which is is recognised by worldwide aviation and aerospace federations as the brink of house.
However Nasa, Air Drive, the Federal Aviation Administration and a few astrophysicists think about the boundary between the environment and house to start 50 miles (80 km) up.
The dangers to Branson and his crew had been underscored in 2007, when a rocket motor take a look at in California’s Mojave Desert left three employees lifeless, and in 2014, when a Virgin Galactic rocket aircraft broke aside throughout a take a look at flight, killing one pilot and severely injuring the opposite.
Ever the showman, Branson insisted on a world livestream of the Sunday morning flight and invited celebrities and former house station astronauts to the corporate’s Spaceport America base in New Mexico.
R&B singer Khalid carried out his new single “New Regular” — a nod to the dawning of house tourism — whereas CBS “Late Present” host Stephen Colbert served as grasp of ceremonies.
Earlier than climbing aboard, Branson, who has kite-surfed the English Channel and tried to circle the world in a hot-air balloon, signed the astronaut log guide and wisecracked: “The title’s Branson. Sir Richard Branson. Astronaut Double-oh-one. License to thrill.” Upon his return to Earth, he introduced a sweepstakes drawing for 2 seats on a Virgin Galactic jaunt as soon as vacationer flights start.
Virgin Galactic already has greater than 600 reservations from would-be house vacationers, with tickets initially costing $250,000 apiece. Blue Origin is ready for Bezos’ flight earlier than saying its ticket costs. Kerianne Flynn, who signed up in 2011 to fly with Virgin Galactic, had butterflies forward of the launch Sunday.
“I feel there’s going to be nothing like going up there and looking out again down on the Earth, which is what I feel I am most enthusiastic about,” she stated. She added: “Hopefully the following generations will have the ability to discover what’s up there.”
Musk’s SpaceX, which is already launching astronauts to the house station for Nasa and constructing moon and Mars ships, plans to take vacationers on extra than simply transient, up-and-down journeys. They’ll as a substitute go into orbit across the Earth for days, with seats costing nicely into the thousands and thousands. The corporate’s first personal flight is ready for September. Musk himself has not dedicated to going into house anytime quickly.

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