Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson flew to the edge of space with five other crew members in a space-tourism test mission on Sunday, July 11.
The company livestreamed the day’s events, with Late Show host Stephen Colbert and retired Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield hosting the proceedings.
The flight by Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity spaceplane was streamed live, with several cameras capturing the action as the mission unfolded. We’ve gathered together the key moments and posted them below.
The mission started at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America facility in New Mexico at 10:40 a.m. ET, with the carrier aircraft, VMS Eve, carrying Unity to an altitude of around 50,000 feet. After Eve released Unity, the spaceplane fired up its rocket engine to blast the crew to the edge of space.
About two-and-a-half minutes after Unity’s release from Eve, the spaceplane took its six crew members to their highest point of 282,000 feet.
The live feed from Unity’s interior became a bit choppy during the flight, but later Branson posted a message that he recorded inside the spaceplane just as the crew were experiencing a period of weightlessness at the edge of space. “I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars,” the billionaire entrepreneur said. “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.”
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 https://t.co/Wyzj0nOBgX #Unity22 @virgingalactic pic.twitter.com/03EJmKiH8V
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 11, 2021
On the way back to the spaceport, Branson spoke again, describing the flight as “the experience of a lifetime.”
A short while later, Unity and the crew members made a safe landing at Spaceport America.
Once back on terra firma, Branson addressed a small crowd to celebrate the successful completion of Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight, describing the experience as “just magical.”
Following Sunday’s mission, Virgin Galactic plans to carry out two more test flights before launching a commercial space tourism service in 2022 with seats costing $250,000.
The flight came a week ahead of the first-ever crewed mission by Blue Origin, which is also planning a similar space tourism service.
Blue Origin owner and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will be on board the New Shepard rocket when it flies to the edge of space on July 20. With competition between the two companies intense, Blue Origin recently questioned whether Virgin Galactic can really claim to be flying to space considering the altitude reached by Unity. But it’s fair to say that, besides the launch system, those traveling aboard Unity or New Shepard will have a similar experience that will include stunning views of Earth and a short period of weightlessness.