Richard Branson's long-awaited test voyage into space, which he took with five of his Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc. employees, is a boost to the company's plans to launch tourism excursions next year.
Branson, who is nearly 71 years old, and five crew members from his Virgin Galactic SPCE, -6.62 percent space-tourism company flew to a height of 53.5 miles above the New Mexico desert, where they experienced three to four minutes of weightlessness and saw the Earth's curvature, before returning home to a runway landing.
Why was this an important flight?
“Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” Branson said at the Spaceport America complex near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, to guests. It indeed is a new age for science and technology. What once used to be a far-away dream and science fiction for millions of people has now become reality. The VSS Unity spacecraft has made history, by taking civilians into space.
The suborbital flight sets off a pivotal month for the future of space travel, with Branson hoping to show off Virgin Galactic's capabilities nine days before Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos hopes to fly on a rocket built by his space firm, Blue Origin.
Several businesses in the expanding commercial space industry, like Blue Origin and Elon Musk's SpaceX, have developed spacecraft that will allow private citizens to acquire the designation of "astronaut," rather than solely NASA-trained military fighter pilots and scientists. This launch makes the future of space travel an extremely interesting thing to watch out for.
What happened on the ground before the Virgin Galactic test flight?
The launch, which was live-streamed in a presentation led by late-night television comedian Stephen Colbert, drew a jubilant crowd of space industry leaders, future clients, and other well-wishers. The entire trip, which had been delayed by 90 minutes due to terrible weather the night before, took about an hour.
Branson and his team strolled onto the airfield, waving to a crowd of onlookers, a week before his 71st birthday, before boarding the Unity rocket plane sitting at the end of a taxiway. Virgin Galactic released a video of Branson arriving at the takeoff location on his bicycle and welcoming crew members with an embrace.
After soaring to the edge of space on Sunday, the Virgin Galactic spaceship carrying creator Richard Branson safely splashed down, in what the British billionaire described as an "experience of a lifetime."
Branson said, shortly after his return to Earth, that Virgin was holding a lucky draw for two free flights on one of the first rocket ships. He indicated that any voluntary payments would go to the US-based NGO Space for Humanity.
What did Virgin Galactic Ceo, Branson have to say?
Nothing, according to Branson, can prepare you for the view from space. He expressed gratitude to his fellow astronauts, saying it had been a "delightful experience" to fly with them. He also expressed gratitude to his pilots. Branson was accompanied by Sirisha Bandla, Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci.
On his return aboard the shining white space plane, a happy Branson exclaimed, "The whole thing was just wonderful."
The flamboyant Virgin Atlantic Airways founder, who was born in London, wasn't intended to fly until later this summer. Mr. Bezos announced plans to launch his own rocket into orbit from Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, so he allocated himself to an earlier trip.
What did his rivals have to say?
Mr. Branson's main adversary in the battle for space tourism among the world's richest men, SpaceX's Elon Musk, came to New Mexico to observe the trip and wished Mr. Branson "Godspeed!" through Twitter.
Mr. Bezos wished everyone a safe and successful flight as well, but he also moved to Twitter to list the ways in which he feels his company's rides will be better.
Future of space tourism
Companies like Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin have been working on a distinct type of spaceflight for years: suborbital space tourism. Anyone with hundreds of thousands of dollars to burn may soon strap in and travel to the edge of space in minutes.
Building new spaceships for visitors has proven to be incredibly complex, requiring years of testing and occasionally ending in fatalities. Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are now transitioning from test flights to commercial journeys with ticketed passengers, with the wealthy founders of both businesses traveling in their aircraft to space.
Before commercial service begins in 2022, Virgin Galactic wants to do two additional test flights. More than 600 customers have already signed up for flights worth an estimated $250,000 each, according to the business.
Forczyk, a space industry analyst, warns that we still don't know how big the suborbital business will be. In principle, as flights grow more common, ticket rates will decrease. However, for the time being, the infant industry caters primarily to the ultra-rich, their guests, and paid researchers. We'll find out whether the billionaire-backed spaceflight companies can deliver on their promise of "democratizing space" as technology advances, or if suborbital thrill trips will remain an exorbitant luxury, according to Forczyk.
If you missed the live stream, you can now watch the video here.