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As announced, Richard Branson, the boss of Virgin Galactic, flew to space, Sunday, July 11, with three other passengers and two pilots. After takeoff, the spacecraft reached space, the space tourism company said on Sunday. The craft then landed safely in New Mexico, the United States, according to an AFP reporter on the spot.
The VSS Unity spacecraft touched down on a runway at Spaceport America at approximately 10:40 a.m. local time (4:40 p.m. GMT). Richard Branson, who, still aboard the ship descending to Earth, described a ‘once in a lifetime experience’, is the first billionaire to have made the trip in a craft developed by a company he himself founded.
A carrier plane took off at around 8:40 a.m. local time from Spaceport America base in the US state of New Mexico. At some 15 kilometers altitude, the spacecraft detached from its carrier plane and began a supersonic ascent, to exceed 80 km altitude, the height set in the United States for the frontier of space. .
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson)July 11, 2021
Once the engine was off, the passengers were able to detach themselves from their seats to float for a few minutes in zero gravity, and admire the curvature of the Earth from one of the cabin’s 12 portholes. After a peak at about 90 km altitude, the ship came down again while hovering.
Billionaires have already been to space in the 2000s, but on Russian rockets. Richard Branson is the first to make the trip thanks to a machine developed by a company he himself founded in 2004. Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is scheduled to fly on July 20.
‘When I was a kid I wanted to go to space’
Another rival billionaire, SpaceX boss Elon Musk, was on hand Sunday to attend the event. Richard Branson’s official role during the flight: to test and evaluate the experience that future customers will have.
The eccentric 70-year-old billionaire, founder of the Virgin Group (whose activities range from an airline to fitness), has long cultivated his hothead image.
‘When I was a kid, I wanted to go to space. As it didn’t seem likely for my generation, I registered the Virgin Galactic name, with the idea of creating a company that could make this possible, ‘Richard Branson wrote a few days before leaving.
An objective that almost came to an end in 2014: the in-flight accident of a Virgin Galactic vessel had caused the death of a pilot, considerably delaying the program.
Since then, the VSS Unity has already reached space three times, including with a female passenger in 2019. This Sunday, the event took place at Spaceport America, a space base built in the New Mexico desert.
Virgin Galactic is at the initiative of its construction, largely financed by this state in the southwest of the United States, and is the main customer. The base includes a runway more than 3.6 km long and a building with spaces dedicated to flight operations, as well as to the reception of future customers.
Battle of the fortunate around space tourism
Now, Virgin Galactic plans two new test flights, then the start of regular commercial operations for early 2022. And ultimately aims to conduct 400 flights per year from Spaceport America.
Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries, including Hollywood celebrities for a price of between $ 200,000 and $ 250,000.
Even if Richard Branson keeps repeating that according to him, ‘space belongs to all of us’, the adventure therefore remains within the reach of only the privileged.
‘When I return (from space), I will be announcing something very exciting to allow more people to become astronauts,’ he promised.
The competition in the space tourism sector, whose imminent advent has been announced for years, has accelerated tremendously this month: the richest man in the world, Jeff Bezos, is also due to fly on the 20th. July, with its own rocket, named New Shepard and developed by its company Blue Origin.
The latter published a table this week extolling its merits over those of Virgin Galactic. Jeff Bezos nevertheless wished Richard Branson a ‘successful theft’ on Instagram.