After 17 years of delay and disappointment, after burning more than one billion US dollars of personal wealth, Sir Richard Branson appeared at the moment of realizing his dream of becoming an astronaut-in the desert of New Mexico. Before the weather triggered a new challenge-upward.

The 70-year-old Virgin founder and five other crew members were forced to wait for the spacecraft VSS Unity to roll out of its hangar at the US Spaceport, expected to delay their flight by 90 minutes.

Virgin Galactic said they will now leave the ground at 8:30 a.m. local time and hang under a specially designed aircraft carrier. VSS Unity will be transported to an altitude of 50,000 feet, where it will be released and ignite its rocket engine, propelling it in a straight line at three times the speed of sound to the edge of space​​​

This flight is 9 days ahead of the time when Amazon founder Jeff Bezos flew higher on a rocket made by his private aerospace company. Blue origin.

The personal adventure of the billionaire ended a race to prove that their rocket company can finally safely conduct commercial operations and open up suborbital space as a tourist destination.

Branson was originally scheduled to participate in the subsequent Virgin Galactic test flight, but hurriedly announced Sunday’s test flight two weeks ago. At that time, it looked like he would be defeated by Bezos to zero gravity.

Richard Branson on the New York Stock Exchange about Virgin Galactic going public in 2019 © AFP via Getty Images

As a sign of future space tourist marketing wars, Blue Origin poured cold water on his feat even before Branson climbed into the sky on Sunday. It pointed out that Virgin Galactic’s space plane did not reach the Carmen Line, a point 100 kilometers above the earth, which marks the internationally recognized boundary of outer space.

Criticism forced Branson to take a defensive a few days before his escape. He pointed out that the United States believes that space begins at an altitude of 80 kilometers and claims that its company’s passengers will spend the same four minutes as Blue Origin in a zero-gravity environment.​​​

Last weekend, the Bezos camp also denounced VSS Unity as a “high-altitude plane” and emphasized the so-called safety flaws, including the lack of an emergency escape system and the fact that it only rose to more than 80 kilometers three times.

But in New Mexico, this moment belongs to Branson. Hundreds of media, company employees and guests gathered in the pre-dawn darkness to witness his release, which proved his skills as a master of performance and has long used his appetite for personal adventure to polish the Virgin brand.

Virgin Galactic moved into the spaceport two years ago, but did not conduct a test flight until Sunday. Due to an accident in 2014, one of the spacecraft ruptured and a test pilot was killed. The plan has been postponed for many years. An earlier accident during ground-based rocket testing killed three employees who signed a contract with Virgin Galactic to build a spacecraft.

Sunday’s flight-and Branson’s part of it-ostensibly is part of a series of tests that Virgin Galactic needs to pass before it fully opens up to commercial operations. It is said that the Virgin founder will help evaluate whether the company has reached its “cabin and customer experience goals.”

Before the start of full commercial operations, two more test flights are planned.


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