Richard Branson became the first person to ride into space aboard a rocket he helped fund. The supersonic space plane developed by his company, Virgin Galactic, roared into the sky over New Mexico early Sunday, carrying Branson and three fellow crew members.
The flight was an edge-of-the-seat sub-orbital test flight intended to demonstrate Virgin Galactic’s air-launched spaceplane is ready for passengers who can afford the ultimate thrill ride. The vehicle appeared to do just that, zooming to an altitude just above 50 miles and giving Branson and his five crewmates about three minutes of weightlessness and spectacular views of Earth before plunging back into the atmosphere for a spiraling descent to touchdown at Virgin’s New Mexico launch site.
Branson’s flight — which came just nine days before Amazon billionaire Jeff Bezos is slated to rocket into suborbital space aboard his own company’s spacecraft — is a landmark moment for the commercial space industry. For years, the up-and-coming sector has been seeking to make suborbital space tourism a viable business to allow thousands of people to experience the adrenaline rush and sweeping views of our planet that such flights can offer.