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Richard Branson blasts off into space on Virgin Galactic flight

Richard Branson will add 'astronaut' to his CV today (Reuters)

Richard Branson will add ‘astronaut’ to his CV today (Reuters)

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson has blasted off on a trip into suborbital space to officially become an astronaut.

The 70-year-old billionaire is part of a crew of six aiming to test out the company’s private astronaut experience.

Travelling aboard the space plane VSS Unity, Branson will climb to an altitude of 90km (295,000ft), offering a view of the curvature of the Earth and four minutes of weightlessness for those onboard.

VSS Unity took off beneath the wings of a carrier aircraft known as VMS Eve, named after Branson’s late mother Evette Branson. 

At an altitude of about 50,000 feet (15,000 meters), Eve will drop Unity and the space plane will make its own way to suborbital space.

Virgin Galactic Unity 22 Spaceflight Picture: Virgin

This is Virgin Galactic’s 22nd test flight (Virgin Galactic)

After four or five minutes of suborbital, weightless flight, Eve and Unity will both come back to Earth and land at Virgin Galactic’s Spaceport America in New Mexico.

The space tourism company’s Unity 22 flight is the 22nd test flight of the reusable SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity that will eventually carry paying customers into weightlessness.

Who is joining Richard Branson on the flight?

Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 crew: (Left to right) Dave Mackay, Colin Bennett, Beth Moses, Richard Branson, Sirisha Bandla, Michael Masucci. (Virgin Galactic)

Sir Richard has dubbed himself ‘Astronaut 001’ and will be responsible for evaluating ‘the private astronaut experience’.

Branson has undergone the same training, preparation and flight as Virgin Galactic’s future astronauts. He will be joined on the flight by:

  • Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic. Moses will serve as cabin lead and test director in space, overseeing the safe and efficient execution of the test flight objectives.
  • Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic. Bennett will evaluate cabin equipment, procedures, and experience during both the boost phase and in the weightless environment.
  • Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic. Bandla will be evaluating the human-tended research experience, using an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes that will be activated at various points in the flight profile.
  • Pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci who will be flying VSS Unity into suborbital space.

What is the Virgin Galactic space plane like?

Customers will be able to float freely in zero gravity (Credits: PA)

Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity space plane is designed to give an unrestricted view of the Earth and a space to experience weightlessness in orbit.

It features individually sized reclining seats with ‘G-Force management’ and automated mood lighting.

Virgin Galactic also said the cabin was designed specifically to allow for an ‘out-of-seat weightless experience’ by including soft cabin surfaces and window edges.

A large mirror allows passengers to view themselves floating in zero gravity.

Virgin Galactic wants to take paying customers up to the edge of space (Credits: PA)

‘This cabin has been designed specifically to allow thousands of people like you and me to achieve the dream of spaceflight safely – and that is incredibly exciting,’ Branson said earlier this year when the cabin design was shown off for the first time.

Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said: ‘The spaceship cabin interior is in many ways the design centrepiece of the astronaut journey, and what has been created will both facilitate and elevate a uniquely profound and transformational journey for the thousands who will fly.’

The cabin includes individually sized reclining seats with 'G-Force management' and automated mood lighting. (Credits: PA

The cabin includes individually sized reclining seats with ‘G-Force management’ and automated mood lighting. (Credits: PA)


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