Richard Branson finally hit another big milestone of his lifetime which is going to space. He made a brief trip to the edge of space aboard the Virgin Galactic space plane. This trip is the first time Branson will be making it to space and is also the first time Virgin has flown a full crew cabin so its a big record for both.
The event which took place at the New Mexico’s Spaceport America has numerous guests and members of the media to witness the event from the desert floor below where they were able to witness the double contrail drawn across the sky by the carrier aircraft VMS Eve.
The plane took off around 8:40 a.m. MT and the VMS Eve flew for 45 minutes before detaching the Unity space plane with the 4 crew members onboard.
Viewed from the surface, a diffuse but distinct white line could be seen rapidly painting almost perfectly vertically, pointing quite literally to the heavens.
According to Richard Branson, this is a lifetime experience and the 70-years-old has now overtaken Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos to reach the edge of space. “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age,” Branson said later from the tarmac of Spaceport America.
VMS Eve is named for Branson’s mother, Eve, who died due to COVID-19 complications in January.
“She held on for one last victory, managing to fight off the virus, but had expended all of her energy in the process,” Branson wrote in a blog post citing her as a major inspiration and force behind his career. “She took glider lessons disguised as a boy, enlisted in the WRENS (Women’s Royal Naval Service) during World War II … she was inventive, fearless, relentless — an entrepreneur before the word existed.”
The space plane was able to make it to an estimated 53 miles above the Earth’s surface and that in itself might be questionable as to what truly qualifies as “Space” because common definitions is 62 miles above the Earth’s surface.
While NASA and the US military has a quite different opinion on what qualifies as space (from 50 miles and above), then we can say that the Unity Space plane did exactly hit that milestone. Also this will bot be some space plane aimed at shipping people to Mars or the Moon but strictly for space tourists at which level they will be able to experience weightlessness.
Before taking off, Branson said he would be “looking back at our beautiful Earth and taking it all in and realizing that only 500 other people [actually it’s 570, as of Saturday] have done this.”
Richard Branson wasn’t the only one onboard. There were three other crew members such as Virgin’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses who happens to be the only one to have previously ridden in the SpaceShipTwo’s passenger cabin back in the year 2019. Then there is the company’s lead operations engineer Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla who is the VP for government affairs.
“The VG flights offer, for the first time, the ability to actively monitor experiments during launch and the initial entry into space. This ability to study biology that experiences launch and then microgravity is, perhaps surprisingly, a radical new development,” Rob Ferl, principal investigator for the experiment and a professor of horticultural sciences, said in a statement. “Previously all experiments had to wait until the spaceship was in orbit before the experiment could be monitored.”
The two Virgin Galactic pilots at the controls of Unity were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, with former NASA astronaut CJ Sturckow and former NASA research pilot Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.
The company will be giving away two seats on an upcoming flight through an Omaze contest which will also encourage donations to benefit the nonprofit Space for Humanity which says its goal is “democratizing space and developing solutions to world problems through increasing of human awareness.”