Five days ago, we brought you the news that Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson had announced that he will go to space on July 11, nine days before Jeff Bezos does the same on a Blue Origin New Shepard spacecraft.
Today, his mission became a reality as Branson successfully soared into space aboard Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity SpaceShipTwo vehicle. He became the first person to ride into space aboard a rocket he helped fund, establishing a landmark moment for the commercial space industry.
SpaceShipTwo’s carrier plane took off at 10:40AM ET and saw Branson head to space from Spaceport America near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico along with Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the Virgin Galactic vice president of government affairs and research operations. The mission was delayed from 9 AM EDT (13:00 GMT) due to overnight weather conditions.
The crew enjoyed a few seconds of weightlessness before the VSS Unity successfully drifted back to Earth in New Mexico at Spaceport America, nailing a clean touchdown, according to live footage from the site.
As heard through the plane's shaky communications connection to ground control, Branson congratulated his fellow crew members, saying "Seventeen years of hard work to get us this far." He also called the journey "an experience of a lifetime."
VSS Unity was piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, while VMS Eve, the carrier aircraft, was piloted by C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer. VSS Unity took off beneath the wings of VMS Eve and, at an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), Eve dropped Unity so that the space plane could find its own way to suborbital space.
Hours before the flight, Branson tweeted, he was "feeling good, eager, and ready," with a picture of him with Elon Musk, who was in New Mexico to witness the mission.
Big day ahead. Great to start the morning with a friend. Feeling good, feeling excited, feeling ready.— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 11, 2021
Watch #Unity22 launch and livestream TODAY at 7:30 am PT | 10:30 am ET | 3:30 pm BST.@virgingalactic @elonmusk https://t.co/1313b4RAKI pic.twitter.com/FRQqrQEbH8