‘I’ve dreamt of this moment since I was kid’: Sir Richard Branson, 70, receives his astronaut wings after completing historic space flight on Virgin Galactic rocket ship – and beats billionaires Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in race to the stars
- British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has become the second oldest man to travel to space at the age of 70
- Branson, one of six Virgin Galactic crew members onboard VSS Unity, beat rivals Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk
- Spacecraft took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico 90 minutes later than expected due to weather
Sir Richard Branson today became the first billionaire in space, celebrating the ‘experience of a lifetime’ with his wife, children and grandchildren who greeted him on the tarmac after his Virgin Galactic spacecraft returned from a flight through the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere.
The 70-year-old British entrepreneur pumped his fists in the air as he stepped onto the runway in New Mexico before skipping towards his daughter Holly’s twins Etta and Artie and scooping them up in his arms.
Branson, who said he had dreamed about travelling to space since childhood, shared a group hug with the rest of his family including his wife Joan Templeman, his son Sam and granddaughter Eva-Deia.
Speaking to a crowd of spectators afterwards, a jubilant Branson said: ‘Like most kids, I have dreamt of this moment since I was kid. But nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space, the whole thing was just magical.’
Sir Richard later posted a video of himself while onboard the Unity, saying: ‘To all you kids down there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship, with lots of other wonderful adults looking down at our beautiful, beautiful Earth.
‘To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.’
The brief, up-and-down flight was intended as a confidence-boosting plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to start taking paying customers on joyrides next year.
Footage streamed live online showed the Virgin Galactic in the air at about 3.45pm UK time, and the aircraft had reached 40,000 feet by 4pm. The spacecraft was carried up into the atmosphere by its mothership before being released so it could power up to highs of 250,000ft.
Sir Richard and his crew reached speeds of Mach 3 on their way to the edge of space. After a short spell during which they experienced weightlessness, the craft then pointed downwards and made its way back to the ground, touching down around 4.40pm.
On the return flight, Sir Richard hailed the ‘experience of a lifetime’ and the ‘hard, hard work’ that went into the flight.
Sir Richard is the first person to enter space in their own vessel, a feat he accomplished nine days before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos plans to ride his own rocket ship – New Shepard – into space from Texas on July 20.
The business magnate sent his congratulations following the successful flight, writing: ‘Can’t wait to join the club!’
Mike Moses, a top executive at Virgin Galactic, said the flight was ‘perfect’ aside from some issues with the transmission of images from inside the cabin. He added the spacecraft looked pristine upon its return.
‘That was an amazing accomplishment,’ former Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield, a one-time commander of the International Space Station, said. ‘I’m just so delighted at what this open door is going to lead to now. It’s a great moment.’
Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, added: ‘This is a landmark moment for Virgin Galactic. It’s a landmark moment for the new commercial space industry and it certainly is a landmark moment for our founder Richard Branson.’
He said the company’s work was dedicated to ‘opening up space to all’.
In a statement posted after the flight, Sir Richard said ‘how you feel when you look when you look down on Earth is impossible to put into words, it’s just indescribable beauty. I can’t wait for you all to get up there.’
The businessman added: ‘Imagine a world where people of all ages and backgrounds, from anywhere, of any gender, of any ethnicity have equal access to space. They will in turn, inspire us all back here on Earth.
‘If you’ve ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true. Welcome to the dawn of a new space age.’
Sir Richard also confirmed plans to ‘turn the next generation of dreamers into the astronauts of today’, while announcing an Omaze sweepstake for the chance to win two seats aboard one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic flights.
Ahead of the flight, Sir Richard posted a photograph of himself with space-tourism rival Elon Musk. He said: ‘It’s a beautiful day to go to space.’
Before climbing aboard, he signed the astronaut log book and wisecracked: ‘The name’s Branson. Sir Richard Branson. Astronaut 001. License to thrill.’
Sir Richard was not supposed to fly until later this summer, but he assigned himself to an earlier flight after Bezos announced plans to ride his own rocket ship into space from Texas on July 20. More than 600 people have already made reservations for a £180,000 ride into space with Virgin Galactic, founded in 2004.
The flamboyant billionaire, who was pictured cycling to the facility this morning, is the second oldest person to travel to space – after 77-year-old John Glenn in 1998.
Sir Richard told the Times newspaper earlier today the view alone will be worth the £1billion he has spent on the project, and added: ‘I think it’s one of the reasons that people want to become astronauts. They want to look back at this beautiful Earth.
‘Every astronaut I’ve known has come back determined that the rest of their lives will be spent working harder to protect the planet that we live on.’
Sir Richard is travelling on VSS Unity, which launched from mothership VMS Eve with a live stream of the event starting at 3.30pm (09:00 ET) from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The launch was delayed by 90 minutes due to bad weather in the area which arrived overnight which delayed the start of flight preparations. Once it reaches 50,000 feet the carrier plane releases Unity, a reusable, winged spacecraft designed to carry six passengers and two pilots into space.
Once released Unity’s rocket motor engages ‘within seconds’, according to Virgin Galactic.
The craft will then fly approximately three and a half times the speed of sound (2,600mph/4,300kph) into suborbital space, reaching up to 360,890ft (110,000 metres) above the Earth’s surface.