A new brand of the space race is on after billionaire Richard Branson soared more than 50 miles high and made it back to New Mexico alive and well.
Branson’s trump aboard the VSS Unity lasted about an hour. He and the other five people aboard the Virgin Galactic aircraft went up 53.5 miles before returning to the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico.
The trip was more than just a stunt. The flight is part of Branson’s effort to create a space tourism effort, noted the Wall Street Journal.
VSS Unity reached:
A speed of Mach 3
A space altitude of 53.5 miles
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) July 11, 2021
Virgin Galactic still has a couple of test flights to go before it can start taking paying customers, according to The New York Times, but when it does it will be charging hundreds of thousands of dollars for each trip.
Branson called the trip “an experience of a lifetime.”
“The whole thing was magical,” he said.
Chris Hadfield, a Canadian astronaut, pinned wings on the crewmates’ flight suits that officially designate them as astronauts, after they reached the ground.
According to the explanation of how the flight works published by the Times, Unity hitched a ride on another plane up to a height of 50,000 feet, when the rocket plane took off on its own.
When the rocket plane hits its peak elevation “those on board were able to see the blackness of space as well as the curve of Earth from the plane’s windows.”
The Times said everybody onboard gets to experience about four minutes of weightlessness.
The plane then re-entered the atmosphere and glided to a landing.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) July 9, 2021
The race for space tourism dominance will heat up in a few days when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos launches from Texas in a capsule made by his company, Blue Origin, according to NPR.
Neither Branson nor Bezos are yet at the level of Elon Musk, whose SpaceX rockets carry astronauts and cargo to the International Space Station. Musk is currently testing rockets he hopes could power a mission to Mars.
Branson has said the space race is an about more than money.
— SPACE.com (@SPACEdotcom) July 11, 2021
“I was a kid once, standing with my dad and my sister, looking up at the moon, being told that Buzz and Neil were standing on it,” he said last week, according to NPR.
“And I just thought, I’ve got to go to space one day.”
Branson already has 700 people signed up to go into space on Virgin Galactic and expects that number to grow.
“When we open up after our trip, I think we’re going to be deluged with people wanting to go to space,” he said.
This article appeared originally on The Western Journal.