Sir Richard Branson won the billionaire space race after rocketing to an altitude of over 53 miles above the Earth on Sunday, a distance which is considered space by multiple U.S. agencies. He became the first earthling to soar into the great beyond in his own vehicle.
In roughly 14 minutes of flight, Branson, 70, the founder of Virgin Airlines and now Virgin Galactic, beat out rival Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, who is planning to fly to space in a rocket just nine days from now.
“Ladies and gentlemen, there it is. More than half a century since the world rejoiced when humans first achieved spaceflight, Richard Branson fulfilled his dream of experiencing space travel,” said comedian Stephen Colbert, who hosted coverage on Virgin’s website.
The flight went like this:
The mothership WhiteKnightTwo took off with SpaceShipTwo — also known as VSS Unity — attached in between its twin fuselages. At about 46,000 feet, the mothership then released SpaceShipTwo, which ignited its rocket engines, climbing vertically. The spacecraft soared at Mach 3 — more than 2,300 miles per hour — to its apogee at about 282,000 feet (53.4 miles) high. Then it began its descent and the four passengers — who did not wear spacesuits or helmets and had no need to supplemental oxygen — experienced weightlessness for a couple minutes. SpaceShipTwo then re-entered the Earth’s atmosphere — causing a double sonic boom — and glided back to land at a runway.
Take a look at the flight path our SpaceShipTwo will take during our fifth supersonic powered test flight. The flight window opens again tomorrow. More info on our flight test program can be found here https://t.co/FPuuC0NHoM pic.twitter.com/riEiledjo6
— Virgin Galactic (@virgingalactic) February 21, 2019
Branson, who designated himself Astronaut 001, appeared ecstatic in a video feed from inside the raft, but much of his audio feed was garbled. In one audible part, he said: “Seventeen years of hard work to get us this far.”
While fellow billionaire Elon Musk flew to New Mexico to witness the flight, Bezos was probably not too happy. Bezos’ Blue Origin even threw some shade at Branson, saying he didn’t really go to space.
“Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin,” they wrote on Twitter.
And they tossed out another dig: “From the beginning, New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name. For 96% of the world’s population, space begins 100 km up at the internationally recognized Kármán line.