Billionaire Richard Branson became the first person to fly to the edge of space in a rocket developed by his private company Virgin Galactic on Sunday over New Mexico, paving the way for the company to begin offering commercial tourist flights in 2022.
Footage of the rocket soaring to the edge of space was shared on YouTube by NASA Space Flight. Virgin successfully launched, flew and landed the rocket known as SpaceShip Two, carrying Branson and Virgin Galactic employees Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla, as well as pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci.
“I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but going to space was more magical than I ever imagined,” Branson tweeted Sunday afternoon.
Video shared by CNET on YouTube explained the rocket’s launch is unique, starting with a smooth runway takeoff rather than a vertical launch. At around 50,000 feet, the spaceship launches from the attached mothership while “bypassing the thickest parts of the earth’s atmosphere, making it far more energy efficient and far more comfortable for the passengers inside.”
SpaceShip Two reached speeds of up to three-times the speed of sound. Once in space, the passengers onboard the spacecraft were able to experience weightlessness in zero gravity, taking in the view of planet earth through on of its 17 windows.
For reentry into the earth’s atmosphere, the rocket employs “The Feather”: an innovative approach that allows the spacecraft to act as both a capsule and winged vehicle depending on when it is advantageous.
After the one-hour flight, the spacecraft landed on the same runway from which it took off.
Branson shared an image on Twitter of himself and the crew experiencing zero gravity on the flight, writing, “Welcome to the dawn of a new space age.”
Prior to the flight, Branson tweeted a video that showed Branson taking a phone call on a television show in 1988, in which the caller asked if the billionaire had ever considered going to space.
“The moon landing was a catalyst moment for me. I remember my dad taking me outside, onto the village green, and we just looked up at the moon,” he later said in the video. “I really did think that myself and many other young people would one day be able to go into space.”
According to Today, Virgin Galactic wants to begin taking paying customers on the same flight next year. More than 700 people have already signed up, including Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber and Lady Gaga. Each seat costs $250,000.