Richard Branson was the first person to travel into space on a rocket that he helped fund. Branson and three other crew members were aboard the supersonic space plane developed by his company, Virgin Galactic, when it roared into the sky over New Mexico early Sunday.
Virgin Galactic employees Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla, as well as pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, boarded the SpaceShipTwo before sunrise, a winged plane with a single rocket motor that the company has spent nearly two decades developing. The vehicle took to the skies at 8:30 a.m. MT, attached beneath its massive, twin-fuselaged mothership, dubbed WhiteKnightTwo, and climbed to about 50,000 feet in the air.
The SpaceShipTwo separated from its mothership shortly after 9:15 a.m. and fell for a brief moment before its engine screamed to life and the vehicle swooped upward. The passengers on board were subjected to up to three Gs of force due to the burst of extreme acceleration, and they watched the blue sky fade into the star-strewn darkness of space. The vehicle was suspended in weightlessness for a few minutes at the top of the flight path, more than 50 miles high, allowing passengers to enjoy panoramic views of the Earth and space as SpaceShipTwo flipped onto its belly.
It then used its feathering system to turn the spaceship rightward as it flew back into Earth’s thick atmosphere and glided back down to a runway landing, mimicking the shape of a badminton shuttlecock.
The Virgin Galactic spaceplane VSS Unity blasts off into space, carrying Richard Branson and his crew.
As Branson floated around in microgravity, he taped a message using cameras onboard the space plane: “To all you kids out there — I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship… If we can do this, just imagine what you can do,” he said.
This was the vehicle’s fourth test flight, and it was the first to reach the edge of space.
In typical Branson fashion, a high-production party surrounded SpaceShipTwo’s takeoff, with friends, family, employees, and a few VIPs in attendance. Branson tweeted a photo of himself and a barefoot Elon Musk hanging out earlier on Sunday. Khalid, a Grammy nominee, is also expected to perform an unreleased song on an outdoor stage.