Richard Branson reaches new heights with successful Virgin Galactic flight

Virgin Galactic's VSS Unity successfully carried its crew, including its billionaire founder, into space.

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Image: Virgin Galactic

Virgin Galactic has successfully completed its first crewed spaceflight that saw founder Richard Branson and his team touch down safely at the purpose-built commercial spaceport, Spaceport America, on Sunday.

It was VSS Unity's fourth spaceflight and first test flight with a full crew in the cabin, which included Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett, and VP of government affairs and research operations Sirisha Bandla, in addition to the company's founder.

The flight was the fourth rocket-powered spaceflight by Virgin Galactic and the 22nd test flight of VSS Unity.

VSS Unity achieved a speed of Mach 3 after being released from the mothership, VMS Eve, and reached space at an altitude of 53.5 miles.

The spaceship touched down at Spaceport America one and a half hours after takeoff.

In a statement, Virgin said the crew reported "feeling well and having witnessed spectacular views of the Earth from space, while moving weightlessly about the cabin".

"I have dreamt about this moment since I was a child, but nothing could have prepared me for the view of Earth from space. It was magical," Branson said.

"How you feel 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.

"My mission statement, which I wrote inside my spacesuit, is to turn the dream of space travel into a reality -- for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone."

In a bid to make his dream of opening space travel to all, Branson has opened a sweepstake on Omaze, giving bidders the chance to win two seats aboard one of the first commercial Virgin Galactic spaceflights, and a guided tour of Spaceport America given by the founder.

Every donation supports Space For Humanity, which is a nonprofit seeking to democratise space and send citizen astronauts of diverse racial, economic, and disciplinary backgrounds to space.

Branson announced just over a week ago he was going to be sending himself into space, beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos by a matter of days.

Last month, Bezos announced that he and his younger brother Mark Bezos would be flying to space onboard a crewed flight operated by Blue Origin, the aerospace company that Bezos founded in 2000.

Scheduled for liftoff on July 20, the flight will be on board Blue Origin's New Shepard rocket ship, which has been in testing since 2015. 

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