Branson welcomes home Virgin Galactic’s historic first spaceflight

Branson's Virgin Galactic reaches space for the first time

Richard Branson with pilots Frederick Sturckow (left) and Mark Stucky.

The success of Unity's test flight means Virgin Galactic is now very close to taking its first paying tourist into space, a goal that the company has been working toward since 2004.

A Virgin Galactic rocket plane reached space on Thursday and returned safely to the California desert, capping years of testing to become the first United States commercial human flight to breach Earth's atmosphere since America's shuttle program ended in 2011.

The company said that during the flight the spaceship reached Mach 2.9, almost three times the speed of sound, as it touched what it considers to be the edge of space. The mission started like many past test flights.

Bezos' New Shepard has already flown to the internationally recognized boundary between Earth's atmosphere and outer space known as the Karman line at 62 miles (100 km) - though the Blue Origin trip did not carry humans.

After Virgin Galactic's successful space test flight, company founder Richard Branson is looking forward to the future - and it may come sooner than you think.

The two pilots are Mark "Forger" Stucky and former NASA astronaut Rick "CJ" Sturckow.

He said there had been tears of tragedy and tears of joy along the way as he thanked the people who made it possible. I was shedding lots.

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Virgin's twin-fuselage carrier airplane holding the SpaceShipTwo passenger spacecraft took off at 7:11 a.m. local time (1511 GMT) from the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 90 miles (145 km) north of Los Angeles.

When Tom Swarbrick asked Sir Branson whether he thought that he would beat Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos in sending commercial passengers to space, he said that he would "claim victory as to sending the first people into space", and said that they were ahead of the game because of this.

"We shall now push on with the rest of the part of our flight test programme that will start to see the rocket motor burn for longer, and VSS Unity fly still faster and higher towards giving a large number of private astronauts an event which provides a fresh planetary perspective to your relationship with the planet earth sufficient reason for the comsos".

"But let's not forget that space is also hard and we daily recognise the commitment and sacrifice that has been so consistently shown by our awesome Mojave family. This day is as much for them as it is for all of us".

The next flight test is within the next couple of months, depending on data analysis from Thursday's flight, Virgin Galactic said.

"The spaceship was tested to its limits today and she performed just as we wished, and we couldn't be happier". There are a lot of firsts here today but there are also some seconds.

The company is now building two more spaceships in anticipation of the price coming down and more people signing up to fly.

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