Richard Branson Soars to Edge of Space on ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ on Virgin Galactic Spaceplane Opening New Commercial Era

Richard Branson Soars to Edge of Space on ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ on Virgin Galactic Spaceplane Opening New Commercial Era
Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, floats in zero gravity with the Unity 22 crewmates inside his VSS Unity spaceplane on July 11, 2021. Credit: Virgin Galactic

For SpaceUpClose.com & RocketSTEM

CAPE CANAVERAL, FL –  British Billionaire Richard Branson soared to the edge of  space on a memorable history making day Sunday morning, July 11, experiencing the ‘Journey of a Lifetime’ and fulfilling a lifelong dream aboard his own private air-launched and rocket powered Virgin Galactic VSS Unity spaceplane that was designed and developed by the rocket company he founded and financed using billions of his own dollars, on a suborbital test flight with a crew of six Virgin employees – thereby starting a new chapter in the commercial human spaceflight era of space tourism and beating out fellow space loving billionaire Jeff Bezos flight to space by just nine days.

“It was the complete experience of a lifetime,” Branson said as he accomplished the historic feat of flying on the first self-financed rocket to space and the first crewed spaceflight of his Virgin Galactic SpaceShipTwo spaceplane named Virgin Space Ship Unity (VSS Unity) today, July 11, on a flawless test flight dubbed ‘Unity 22.’

“We are here to open up access to space to everyone. We want to inspire the next generation of space explorers.  We want to turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today and tomorrow.”

“To the next generation of dreamers – if we can do this just imagine what you can do.”

So long as you can afford it – with his space tourism company.

He was overwhelmed by the experience and left almost speechless during comments at the post flight briefing in the remote desert in Spaceport America in New Mexico where the flight took off and landed at almost the same spot.

After a 90 minute weather delay due to strong ground winds the VSS Unity spaceplane finally took flight from Spaceport America in the southern New Mexican desert at 10:40 a.m. EDT (1440 GMT) while attached to the belly of the VMS Eve mothership aircraft.

Branson and his crewmates soon reached an altitude of 282,000 feet (86 kilometers) after the VSS hybrid fueled rocket engine fired for about 60  seconds.

“Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” Branson said after waiting and working hard for 17 years to achieve his lifelong dream.

The 70-year-old Branson’s maiden spaceflight generated enormous public and media interest worldwide and was broadcast live by domestic and international news channels as well as Virgin Galactic’s own global live stream – as he and the crew experienced ‘the journey of a lifetime.

Branson and many others who hailed the successful flight hope it will inspire kids to dream big and study math and science and gain a better appreciation of being stewards of the home planet since we are all ‘passengers on spaceship Earth.’

“To all you kids down there I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars.”

“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.”

Branson and Virgin Galactic put on a spectacular and informative show with outstanding content and marketing. Bezos has a hard act to follow to match the excitement and viewership.

After the daring flight he and his crew mates were awarded astronaut wings by retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield during the post flight briefing

Branson was designated as Astronaut 001.

“Today’s flight was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, including the Company’s founder, Sir Richard Branson,” Virgin Galactic said.

Branson and his crew of six were first carried aloft seated inside the VSS Unity spaceplane to an altitude of some 46,000 feet while attached to the belly of the twin fuselage Virgin Mothership Eve (VMS).

Unity 22 takeoff screenshot

After about 45 minutes they were then be air-dropped for a rocket powered ignition, ascent and flight to over 50+ miles aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceship.

Overall the entire fight of VSS Unity lasted about an hour with about three minutes of weightlessness and ended with a runway landing like the space shuttle on the 12,000-foot-long runway at Spaceport America.

Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, floats in zero gravity with the Unity 22 crewmates inside his VSS Unity spaceplane on July 11, 2021. Credit: Virgin Galactic

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve. The vehicle reached space, at an altitude of 53.5 miles – above the edge of space as defined by NASA and the FAA – before gliding smoothly to a runway landing at Spaceport America.

“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but going to space was more magical than I ever imagined,” said Branson

Branson hopes many more people will experience spaceflight thanks to the hard work of company’s like his Virgin Galactic as well as Bezos Blue Origin and Elon Musk’s SpaceX

In fact Elon Musk visited Branson in his kitchen during a surprise appearance at 3 a.m. local time and Branson tweeted a photo of the two

“It was great this morning to find Elon in my kitchen at 3 o’clock to come to wish us the best. I’d already been to bed and he still hadn’t gone to bed,” he said dring the post launch briefing. “So nice of him to come all this way to wish us well.”

Bezos also sent Branson a “goodwill message.”

After nearly two decades of development, delays and setbacks including a tragic and deadly in-flight accident back in 2014 that resulted in a spaceship breakup and crash and death of one pilot , Sir Richard Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, fulfilled his lifelong dream of traveling to space – even if it is for only a few minutes to experience the sight of the beautiful and fragile Earth and its curvature and weightlessness beyond the discernable atmosphere and gazing into the blackness and vastness of outer space.

VSS Unity in space during #Unity22 spaceplane test flight on July 11, 2021 with Sir Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Galactic, and his crewmates. Credit: Virgin Galactic

The VSS Unity spaceship itself came through the flight with flying colors in excellent shape.

“We’ve looked at the data, we’ve done our quick engineering walk around (and) the ship looks pristine, no issues whatsoever,” said  Mike Moses, Virgin president for space flight and safety at the briefing after taking an initial inspection look.

“We’ll take our time, do all the detailed inspections, and then we’ll figure out when we’re ready to go again. But ship looked perfect.”

Here’s the takeoff:

“Take-off! The #Unity22 crew including @RichardBranson leave Spaceport America, New Mexico for #VirginGalactic’s first fully-crewed spaceflight,” Virgin Galactic tweeted.

Here is the complete Virgin Galactic live stream:

Branson and Bezos are engaged in a high stakes competition between the two billionaire moguls offering to send paying customers on suborbital human tourist trips journeying high above Earth to the edge of space and back – culminating in their two trips nine days apart this month.

Sir Richard Branson has certainly now won the Billionaires Space Race between Branson and Bezos of who flies first to space on his own spaceship – which reached a fever pitch after Bezos announced he would fly aboard the first human flight of his competing New Shepard commercial rocket and capsule on July 20 – a date chosen to coincide with the 52nd anniversary of NASA’s first human landing mission on the moon on the Apollo 11 lunar landing flight.

Right after the Bezos Blue Orion flight announcement Branson than one upped Bezos and announced on July 1 that he would fly on Virgin Galactic’s next test flight on the SpaceShipTwo “Unity 22” spaceplane on July 11.

Both commercial ventures will fly to the edge of space to approximately some 50+ to 62+ miles altitude above Earth for spectacular but brief views – but neither will achieve orbit unlike the much more powerful rockets and spacecraft being developed by a third space loving Billionaire – namely Elon Musk the CEO of SpaceX.

Branson flew aboard Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo Unity spaceship taking off from a Spaceport near the town of Truth or Consequences in New Mexico to personally evaluate “the private astronaut experience” and make sure he works to “enhance the journey for all future astronaut customers” – and most importantly to prove its safe to his hundreds of customers!

To date over 600 people have reserved seats and plunked down cold hard cash at a price of some $250,000 – and they have been waiting a very very long time, over a decade for most of them since tickets went up for sale and quickly sold out.

Both Branson and Bezos will be flying science experiments for NASA and perhaps astronauts in the future

Following this successful flight, the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights with paying passengers is currently expected to commence starting in 2022 after two additional test flights this year.

After this flight “the team will complete inspections of the vehicles and an extensive data review, which will inform the next steps in the test flight program,” said Virgin.

“Including NASA’s first two Mercury missions, 13 X-15 test flights above 50 miles and three 2004 flights by a precursor to Virgin’s spaceplane, Branson’s flight will be the 23rd sub-orbital launch since 1961,” says CBS News space consultant Bill Harwood.

 

This infographic released by Virgin Galactic describes the typical flight profile for a SpaceShipTwo mission. Credit: Virgin Galactic

I have done two TV interviews about the ‘Billionaires Space Race between Branson and Bezos’ for WESH 2 NBC News Orlando and TRT Turkish TV

Here’s the WESH 2 NBC Orlando News story featuring my comments about the Billionaires Space Race between Branson and Bezos broadcast on July 9/10, 2021

 

Here’s my TRT World interview:

Watch Ken’s continuing reports about Artemis and NASA missions, SLS, Orion, Mars 2020 Perseverance and Curiosity rovers, SpaceX, ULA, Starlink, Commercial Crew and Starliner and Crew Dragon and onsite for live reporting of upcoming and recent SpaceX and ULA launches including Crew 1 & 2, Demo-2, ISS, X-37B, Solar Orbiter, NRO spysats and national security missions and more at the Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Space Force Station.

Stay tuned here for Ken’s continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news: www.kenkremer.com –www.spaceupclose.com – twitter @ken_kremer – email: ken at kenkremer.com

Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics.

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Please consider supporting Ken’s work by purchasing his photos and/or donating at Patreon or Paypal:

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Richard Branson, Astronaut 001. Richard Branson, billionaire founder of Virgin Galactic will evaluate the private astronaut experience and will undergo the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts on the upcoming Virgin Galactic Unity22 slated for July 11, 2021. Credit: Virgin Galactic

 

Virgin Galactic Unity22 Crew. Left to right; Dave Mackay, Chief Pilot, Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer, Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Richard Branson, Founder Virgin Galactic, Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations, Michael Masucci, Pilot. Credit: Virgin Galactic

 

 

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Ken Kremer

Watch for Ken’s continuing onsite coverage of NASA, SpaceX, ULA, Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and more space and mission reports direct from Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida and Wallops Flight Facility in Virginia. Stay tuned here for Ken's continuing Earth and Planetary science and human spaceflight news. Dr. Kremer is a research scientist and journalist based in the KSC area, active in outreach and interviewed regularly on TV and radio about space topics. Ken’s photos are for sale and he is available for lectures and outreach events.

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