On Sunday Virgin Galactic made the first-ever successful private tour into space along with its billionaire founder Richard Branson. The event took place at Spaceport America New Mexico where the media was treated to a historic event for spaceflight.
On returning Richard Branson was exuberant and as excited as ever saying “Just imagine a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity, have equal access to space. Welcome to the dawn of a new space age!”
Now while his remarks may seem a little too optimistic, the event does mark a historic moment in what is now officially the space tourism industry. At the moment however the high costs of making such a flight would restrict just to the elite class but like any other invention or scientific discovery, the costs do eventually drop and will be accessible to the average person.
Meanwhile, let’s congratulate Richard Branson and Virgin Atlantic for making it possible for private citizens to tour the unknown space.
The event began early at 2:45 a.m. with a classic space launch delay. This was due to an overnight thunderstorm that prevented the crew from rolling out the spacecraft which due to reasons that are simply bewildering cannot get wet! This is however understandable given the stakes and the conditions in the earth’s upper atmosphere.
Fortunately for Richard and his fellow pioneers, the sun did eventually rise and soon the area was filled with a crowd of people: VIPs, employees, local students and a 150 long personal guest list of Richard Branson. Even Elon Musk showed up to congratulate a fellow pioneer and billionaire.
At 8:40 wheels were up and VMS Eve “the mothership” climbed to about 36000 feet where VSS Unity, the spaceplane carrying the crew detached to begin its own climb at around 9:24.
With speeds reaching Mach 3 Unity was able to reach a peak altitude of approximately 282000 feet as planned.
The passengers were at that height and speed able to enjoy a small dose of microgravity but a planned mid-air speech had to be cancelled due to poor signal.
No worries though, Unity was able to make it back to earth touching down at around 9:38.
Branson was then able to utter a few inspiring words upon alighting from the spacecraft.
“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. We are at the vanguard of a new space age.”
Long Road to Space
The space tour was the culmination of years of work and billions of dollars of investment that even cost the life of a pilot who lost his life in a 2014 test flight crash.
Engineers at Virgin Galactic did however work through this hurdle and created a stronger and safer aircraft that was christened Unity by the late renown Stephen Hawking who I know would have wanted to be among Unity’s first passengers.
It was in 2018 that Virgin Galactic’s test pilots were able to ‘touch the edge of space’ which depending on where you come from is either 100 or 80 kilometres above sea level.
Most important however is the fact that Richard Branson has been able to beat fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk both of whom have scheduled similar flights into space soon after this event.
Jeff Bezos is planning to fly Blue Origin’s New Shephard to space on July 22. He will be accompanied by his brother, a mystery passenger said to have paid $28 million for the trip and Wally Funk one of the first women to have been trained as an astronaut but never made it to space.
While Branson may have won the race he was quick to play down any competition between him and Jeff Bezos saying instead “We wish Jeff the absolute best.”