Thrill-seeking billionaire Richard Branson has reached space aboard his own winged rocket ship in his boldest adventure yet.
The feat vaults the nearly 71-year-old Branson past fellow billionaire and rival Jeff Bezos, who is planning to fly to space in a craft of his own nine days from now.
Billionaire Richard Branson and crew are seen on board Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity before starting their untethered ascent to the edge of space above Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, U.S. July 11, 2021 in a still image from video. (Reuters)
With about 500 people watching, including Branson’s wife, children and grandchildren, a twin-fuselage aircraft with his space plane attached underneath took off in the first stage of the flight. Aboard were Branson and five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company.
The space plane then detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 8 1/2 miles (13 kilometers) and fired its engine, reaching the edge of space at about 53 miles (88 kilometers) up. After a few minutes of weightlessness for the crew, the space plane is supposed to glide to a runway landing.
The flight was intended as a confidence-boosting plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to start taking paying customers on joyrides next year.
“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” Branson tweeted in the morning, posting a photo of himself with fellow billionaire and space-tourism rival Elon Musk.
Branson, the flamboyant, London-born founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways, wasn’t supposed to fly until later this summer. But he assigned himself to an earlier flight after Bezos announced plans to ride his own rocket ship into space from Texas on July 20.
More than 600 people have already made reservations for a ride into space with Virgin Galactic, founded in 2004.
Bezos’ Blue Origin has yet to open ticket sales or even announce prices, but late last week boasted via Twitter that it would take clients higher and offer bigger windows.
Unlike Blue Origin and Musk’s SpaceX both launch capsules atop rockets.