San Francisco – With the historic flight to the edge of space on Sunday, astronaut Richard Branson has opened the doors for all humans to visit space.
Branson on Sunday touched the edge of space with three employees and landed safely back to Earth, on board his company Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity. It was the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity and the first test flight with a full crew in the cabin.
It was an “experience of a lifetime”, said the 70-year-old billionaire. The flight climbed nearly 86 kilometres above the Earth’s surface.
To make “space more accessible to all,a he also announced a partnership with Omaze. Donations to the charity Space for Humanity can win two seats on the Virgin Galactic’s next flight to space.
“With today’s successful flight of VSS Unity, I’m thrilled to announce a partnership with Omaze and Space for Humanity to inspire the next generation of dreamers. For so long, we have looked back in wonder at the space pioneers of yesterday. Now, I want the astronauts of tomorrow to look forward and make their own dreams come true,” Branson said in a statement.
“Space is for all humanity, which is why we’re giving YOU the chance to win 2 seats on one of the first Virgin Galactic flights to space!” he shared in a tweet.
“ENTER NOW – all donations go to non-profit @spacehumanity,” he added.
During the flight on Sunday, the crew fulfilled a number of test objectives related to the cabin and customer experience, including evaluating the commercial customer cabin, the views of Earth from space, the conditions for conducting research and the effectiveness of the five-day pre-flight training programme at Spaceport America.
“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” he said in a press conference following the flight. “The whole thing was just magical.”
“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers: if we can do this, just imagine what you can do,” he added in a tweet.
Besides Branson, the flight included Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor, Colin Bennett, lead Operations Engineer, and Indian-origin Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs at Virgin Galactic.
The pilots were Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci flying VSS Unity, and CJ Sturckow and Kelly Latimer flying VMS Eve.
Virgin Galactic aims to fly two more flights, then start regular commercial operations from early 2022. The ultimate goal is to conduct 400 flights per year. The company has already sold nearly 600 tickets, with each ticket costing nearly $250 000 (about R3.6-million).
After Branson, Amazon Founder Jeff Bezos is expected to take off in his own space tourism Blue Origin rocket on July 20. Bezos will fly with his brother Mark and two others.
Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket aims to launch its crew capsule just beyond the Karman line for a few minutes of weightlessness.
The Karman line, 100km above the ground, is the boundary of space.