It took 17 years for this historic moment to finally happen. Virgin Galatic took off from Spaceport America, New Mexico today, July 11th, with its founder Richard Brandson on board and his crew, the first passengers of the first commercial space flight. Let the space race begin!
Branson’s journey comes just ahead of the one announced by Blue Origin’s owner, Jeff Bezos, who is set to go on the company’s first commercial trip on July 20th. This morning’s highly anticipated launch of Virgin Galactic kicked off with a 90-minute delay due to weather.
Richard Branson arrived at Spaceport America on a bike and joined his crewmates on the historic flight, which took off at 10:40 a.m. EDT from Spaceport America.
Called Unity 22, the VSS Unity spacecraft successfully flew Branson and other five passengers to the edge of space, which is about 50 miles (80 kilometers) high. To get there, Unity was carried by a carrier mothership dubbed VMS Eve to an altitude of about 45 000 ft (13,716 meters).
Around 11:25 a.m. EDT, Unity separated from the carrier ship and ignited its engine for approximately one minute, taking Branson and the crew into space. Once past the thickest layers of the atmosphere, the passengers were able to experience zero-G and gaze into the blackness of space. They were also delighted with stunning views of Earth’s curvature.
Minutes later, the plane began its return to Earth in a glide and landed safely back at Spaceport America. In total, the flight took around an hour, and even though it didn’t last that long, Branson described it as “an experience of a lifetime.”
The company held a live webcast of the whole flight (you can watch the historic launch, ascent, entry, descent, and landing down below). The coverage was hosted by comedian Stephen Colbert, former Canadian Space Agency astronaut Chris Hadfield, and scientific communicator Kellie Gerardi, who will also fly on a dedicated research flight with Virgin Galactic.