Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has successfully flown to space and safely landed back to Earth.
The 70-year-old billionaire rode aboard the V.S.S. Unity rocket plane on Sunday morning. Unity took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, and was carried by another plane up, dubbed Mothership Eve, to roughly 50,000 feet before being released. The craft then ignited its rockets and accelerated to an altitude of 50 miles — which is the point the US government considers to be the beginning of outer space.
The flight took roughly an hour from take off to touch down. During this time, Branson and his fellow crew members evaluated the experience for future Virgin Galactic customers. They were also able to experience weightlessness for a brief period of time while the craft was at its peak arc above the Earth.
Branson was a part of a crew of six to take part in the inaugural Virgin Galactic flight, according to The New York Times. Joining the mogul were pilots David Mackay and Michael Masucci, as well as three mission specialists who helped evaluate the experience for future astronauts.
The specialists included Beth Moses, chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennet, lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president of government affairs and research operations at Virgin Galactic.
Of course, the true beginning of outer space is a hotly debated topic. It’s even resulted in a hilariously aggressive infographic from Blue Origin arguing that the Kármán Line — a point roughly 62 miles in altitude — is the true beginning of outer space.
Branson said that the flight was "an experience of a lifetime" during the Unity's descent — and he's no doubt right. Regardless of what you think of the whole billionaires-going-into-space trend, it's pretty cool that we get to see space tourism finally take off (literally) after decades of work and research. This undoubtedly is a huge step forward for a new era of space travel and exploration.
Watch the full flight below:
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