TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. — Swashbuckling billionaire Richard Branson hurtled into space aboard his winged rocket ship Sunday, bringing Astro-tourism a step closer to reality and. The nearly 71-year-old Branson and five crewmates from his space tourism company reached an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) over the New Mexico desert — enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and witness the curvature of the Earth — and then glided back home to a runway lan” ing.
“The whole thing, it was just ma”ical,” a jubilant Branson said on hisplane named Unity. The brief, up-and-down flight — the splane’sane’s portion took only about 15 minutes, or about as long as Shepard’sard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961 — was a splashy and unabashedly commercial plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to start taking paying customers on joyrides . By nine days, Branson became the first person to blast off in his spaceship, beating Bezos, the wealthiest person on the planet. He also became the second septuagenarian to go into space. Astronaut flew on the shuttle at age 77 in 1998.
Bezos sent his congratulations, “Can’t: “Can’t wait to join t”e club!” — though he also took to Twitter a couple of days earlier to enumerate how he believes his compancompany’sst rides will be better. With about 500 people watching, including BransoBranson’sy, Unity was carried aloft underneath a twin-fuselage aircraft. Then, at an altitude of about 8 1/2 miles (13 kilometers), Unity detached from the mother ship and fired its engine, reaching more than Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, as it pierced the edge of space.
Branson pumped his fists as he stepped out apart from some problems with transmitting video images inside the cabin, the flight was perfect, and the ship looked pristine. “That was an”amazing accomplishment,” former Can”Dian astronaut Chris Hadfield, a one-time commander of the , said from the sidelines. “I’m just so. “Delighted at what this to now. It’s great it sent.”toward his family, bear-hugging his wife and children and scooping up his grandchildren in his arms. Spectators cheered, jumped into the air, and embraced as the rocket plane touched down on Earth. Mike Moses, a top executive at Virgin Galactic, said that
Virgin Gal” chic conducted three previousinto space with crews of just two or three. The flamboyant, London-born founder of Virgin Atlantic Airways wasn’t suppowasn’t . But he assigned himself to an earlier flight after Bezos announced plans to ride his from Texas on July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing. Branson denied he was trying to outdo Bezos. Branson’s Branson’s in the space-tourism race among the world’s richest world,Elon MuSpaceX to New Mexico to watch and congratulate Branson for a “beautiful flight”.”
Bezos’the so-called Karman line 62 miles (100 kilometers) above Earth, recognized by international aviation and aerospace federations as the threshold of space. But NASA, the , the Federal Aviation Administration, and some astrophysicists consider the boundary between the atmosphere and space to begin 50 miles (80 kilometers) up. The risks to Branson and his crew were underscored in 2007 when a rocket motor test in California’s MojCalifornia’seft three workers dead. In 2014, a rocket plane broke apart during a test flight, killing one pilot and seriously injuring the other.
R&B singer Khalid performed his new single “New Normal” — a nod to “he dawning” of English Channel and attempted to circle the world in a hot-air balloon, signed the astronaut logbook and wisecracked: “The name’s Branson. Sir “ichaname’snson. Astronaut Double-oh-one. License to thrill.”— while CBS “Late Show” host Stephen”Colbert s”served as master of ceremonies. Ever the showman, Branson insisted on a global live stream of the Sunday morning flight and invited celebrities and former space station astronauts to the company’s Spaceport Amercompany’sin New Mexico. Before climbing aboard, Branson, who has kite-surfed the
But asked afterward whe”he is planning any more adventures, Branson said he will “definitely give it a res” for the time being” because “I’m not sure I” would be”I’m to put my family through another one.” He said he thinks he ho” ds the record for being pulled out of the sea five times by helicopter. And upon his return to Earth, Branson announced sweepstakes drawing for two seats on a Virgin Galactic jaunt. Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations from would-be space tourists, with tickets initially costing $250,000 apiece. Blue Origin is waiting for Bezos’.
Kerianne Flynn, who signed up in 2011 to fly with, had butterflies abeforethe launch Sunday. “I think there’s going to b” nothingthere’soing up there and looking back down on the Earth, which is what I think I’m most excited about,” said shy maid. She added: “Hop” entirely, the following genera” ions will be able to explore what’s up there.” Blue Oriwhat’sd Musk’s S”aces fly Apollo-sMusk’susing capsules atop rockets instead of an air-launched, reusable spaceplane.
SpaceX, which is alreadyand building moon and Mars ships, plans to take tourists on more than brief, up-and-down trips. Customers will instead go into orbit for days, with seats costing well into the millions—the company’s first company’s September. Musk himself has not committed to going into space . The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of ScienInstitute’sn. The AP is solely responsible for all content. Dunn reported from Cape Canaveral, Fla.