Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson and his fellow crew members grinned from ear-to-ear as they floated about the SpaceShipTwo cabin and looked down on Earth Sunday during their brief spaceflight.
The Virgin Group billionaire achieved his lifelong dream of reaching the edge of space after SpaceShipTwo, carried by a custom mother ship, took off from the spaceport in New Mexico. The spaceplane was carried to about 45,000 feet before VSS Unity was released and fired up its rocket motor, sending the crew and two pilots supersonic.
At its peak of 53.5 miles above sea level, VSS Unity was above the 50-mile boundary considered by NASA, the Air Force and the Federal Aviation Administration to be the edge of space.
“Welcome to space,” one of the pilots said.
A new video released by Virgin Galactic a day after the flight shows those brief moments of weightlessness as the crew was able to look down on the blue globe below and out at the dark vastness of space.
Beth Moses, Colin Bennett and Sirisha Bandla, all of whom work at Virgin Galactic, were mission specialists on board the flight with Branson. Each crew member looked out of the 17 windows inside SpaceShipTwo and the video shows each one with a look of amazement.
“Unbelievable,” Branson repeated again and again. The other crew members could be heard saying “wow” and shouting for joy.
The flight marked the first time all four seats were occupied on board. Virgin Galactic said it will conduct two more test flights with crew before welcoming paying customers to fly. More than 600 have already paid $250,000 for a seat and it’s expected ticket prices will increase to $500,000.
Virgin Galactic streamed the milestone event online Sunday but the views from inside the cabin cut in and out during signal loss. The video released Monday showed those precious minutes.
Bandla performed a floating front flip with the help of Bennett and Branson could be seen floating up to say hello to SpaceShipTwo pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci. Almost as soon as it started, the experience was over as the pilots instructed the crew to buckle up again as they began the journey back to the runway.
Taking a moment to reach out to the next generation of space explorers, Branson shared a message from his seat.
“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 to our beautiful, beautiful Earth,” Branson said. “To our next generation of dreamers, if we can do this just imagine what you can do.”
Former NASA administrator Sean O’Keefe said space tourism took a big leap toward reality with Virgin Galactic’s success.
“We now see the opportunity for space to be accessible to all of us, someday, and this is the first major step in that direction,” NASA’s 10th administrator said.
Branson threw the camera a grin and a double thumbs-up as SpaceShipTwo glided back to Earth landing where it started.
The star-studded livestream event was hosted by Stephen Colbert, Canadian astronaut Chris Hadfield and scientist and space communicator Kellie Gerardi. After the spaceplane landed the celebration continued with a concert by Khalid, who premiered a space-inspired song called “New Normal.”
Virgin Galactic is now hosting a sweepstakes for two seats on SpaceShipTwo. To enter participants can donate to Space for Humanity, a nonprofit working to send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic and disciplinary backgrounds to space. The deadline to enter is Aug. 31.