The 70-year-old founder of Virgin Group blasted off into space on his Virgin Galactic Unity 22 craft on Sunday.
Just as Jeff Bezos was about to be declared the winner in the race of billionaires and their efforts to be the first to embark on a space expedition, Richard Branson swooped in and snatched the title from under his nose. According to Variety, the 70-year-old blasted off into space on his Virgin Galactic Unity 22 craft. After taking off from the Spaceport America facility in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, on Sunday, he relished the experiences of weightlessness. As for the breathtaking view of our planet, Branson said, "Nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space. It was just magical."
The commercial astronaut was one of six members on board the test flight that departed around 7:40 a.m. PT. Traveling more than three times the speed of sound the aircraft was over 282,000 feet above the Earth at one point. During a live stream of the Virgin Galactic, which was hosted by Stephen Colbert, Branson and the other travelers were seen floating around in the Unity 22 capsule. It was so surreal that Branson described it as a "complete experience of a lifetime." According to CNBC, he noted, "Now I’m looking down at a beautiful spaceport," and also lauded everyone who made this happen. "Congratulations to everyone for creating such a beautiful, beautiful place," shared the entrepreneur, who founded the Virgin Group in the 1970s.
While Branson's Virgin Galactic is still in the testing phase of its spacecraft system, it aims to begin commercial service by early 2022. The four crew members in the recent flight were testing the spacecraft's cabin and the training program Virgin Galactic has developed. Meanwhile, the fifth member, Bandla, was reportedly performing a plant-based experiment on behalf of the University of Florida.
Branson's historical space sightseeing trip comes just a week before Jeff Bezos was set to launch into suborbital space. The founder of Amazon will board the New Shepard rocket, his company Blue Origin's first crewed flight into space on July 20. He will be accompanied by his brother, Mark, the winner of a $28 million charity auction, and aerospace pioneer Wally Funk. Per Reuters, Bezos will make Funk's years-old dream of space travel come true with the latest expedition. While Funk passed NASA's astronaut training program in 1961 as a member of the "Mercury 13" Woman in Space Program, it was cut short due to the gender of the 13 women who passed the rigorous tests. This moment is something that the 82-year-old has been looking forward to all her life. "No one has waited longer," wrote the Bezos on Instagram announcing the newest passenger onboard the spacecraft.
"Ever since I was five years old, I've dreamed of traveling to space. On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother," shared Bezos in a separate post, while he is about to realize his dream, Branson has already fulfilled his. On Sunday, his spacecraft successfully landed on the runway in New Mexico after finishing the company's fourth spaceflight to date. After Unity 22 completed its flight, Bezos congratulated his rival via Instagram. Meanwhile, Musk arrived in New Mexico to cheer on Branson before he left for his space adventure.
Cover image source: Getty | Photo by Drew Angerer