“Welcome to the dawn of a new space age.” said British businessman Richard Branson, who is almost 70 years old, after he went ahead and created a record by reaching space onboard his Virgin Galactic vessel VSS Unity on Sunday.
Virgin Galactic’s passenger rocket plane VSS Unity took off at around 1440 UTC at its New Mexico launchpad, after a slight delay. The space plane detached itself from the mother ship at an altitude of about 8 miles and fired up its engine. The passenger rocket plane VSS Unity ascended for nearly an hour before it touched the edge of space at about 53 miles (88 kilometers) up. Richard Branson, headed into space with five other team members and landed successfully after an hour-long trip.
Even though Richard Branson is ecstatic about his win, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ company pointed out that Branson did not fly high enough and needed to travel at least 12 kilometers higher than the altitude that Branson managed to reach. According to them, Jeff Bezo’s vessel, New Shepard was designed to fly above the internationally recognized Kármán line, which defines outer space as 100 kilometers above Earth’s mean sea level.
This has not dampened the British billionaire’s win after securing his spot in the ultimate space race between the world’s wealthiest men. He addressed enthusiastic crowds and said that his goal was “to turn the dream of space travel into a reality — for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone.” Branson’s company plans to start commercial operations sometime next year.
Jeff Bezos plans to travel on July 20 on his vessel, New Shepard suborbital rocket ship, built by his Blue Origin firm and, he is set to pilot the spacecraft himself. Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk, not one to be left behind, also has similar ambitions to travel to outer space and eventually, Mars. Elon Musk’s SpaceX project is expected to carry civilians into space as early as September this year.