- Richard Branson was accompanied by two pilots and three mission specialists.
- Branson, who turns 71 in a week, had originally planned the flight for later this summer.
- Virgin Galactic has plans for two more test flights before commercial service begins in 2022.
TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. – Billionaire entrepreneur and adventurer Richard Branson’s dream of space travel was realized and celestial tourism took a leap forward Sunday as Virgin Galactic’s rocket ship reached the edge of space during a historic flight from Spaceport America.
Branson and his crew experienced about four minutes of weightlessness before their space plane smoothly glided to a runway landing. The entire trip, delayed 90 minutes because of bad weather the previous night, lasted about an hour. An ecstatic Branson hugged family and friends who greeted him after landing.
“It was just magical,” Branson said. “It’s 17 years of painstaking work, the occasional horrible down and large ups with it. And today was definitely the biggest up.”
Branson, who turns 71 this week, and a crew of two pilots and three mission specialists were carried to an altitude of more than eight miles by the aircraft VMS Eve, named after Branson’s mother. Live video then showed the space plane VSS Unity release from the mother ship’s twin fuselages, using rocket power to fly to the boundary of space, more than 50 miles above the Earth.
Tributes – and criticism – rolled in on social media.