Space

Virgin's Branson reaches edge of space, Amazon's Bezos to follow suit

Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity, carrying billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his crew, descends after reaching the edge of space on July 11. REUTERS/Joe Skipper
Virgin Galactic's passenger rocket plane VSS Unity, carrying billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson and his crew, descends after reaching the edge of space on July 11. REUTERS/Joe Skipper © REUTERS/Joe Skipper

Richard Branson described his flight into space on Sunday as the "experience of a lifetime" after the spacecraft VSS Unity, reached an altitude of 86 kilometers and experienced weightlessness for a few minutes. 

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"I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space," the 70-year-old said, during a post-flight ceremony where he and crewmates received their astronaut wings.

On Sunday morning, the VSS Unity, which carried three other passengers and two pilots besides Branson, breached the US-recognised boundary of space before gliding down to the ground. 

The spacecraft had taken off attached to the belly of a massive carrier plane, which ascended 15 kilometers before dropping its payload. The rocket-powered Unity achieved a top speed of Mach 3 as it soared to space.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who came to watch the flight, quickly tweeted, "Congratulations, beautiful flight!"

NASA also congratulated the team, calling the flight "spectacular, indeed."

Several tourists journeyed to the International Space Station in the 2000s, but on Russian rockets.

The VSS Unity has successfully reached space three times, in 2018, 2019 and in May this year.

After Sunday, Virgin Galactic plans two further flights, and then the start of regular commercial operations from early 2022. The ultimate goal is to conduct 400 flights per year.

Some 600 tickets have already been sold to people from 60 different countries -- including Hollywood celebrities -- for prices ranging from $200,000 to $250,000.

The mission's success allowed the British billionaire, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, to one-up Amazon founder Jeff Bezos who is due to fly nine days from now on Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket.

Bezos posted a photo of Unity on his Instagram page after Branson trip, offering his congratulations.

"Can't wait to join the club!" he wrote.

- (with AFP)

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