Today, On July 11, 2021, a new era in space tourism just opened up: by having flown its founder, Richard Branson, the British American spaceflight company Virgin Galactic became the first spaceflight company to independently launch a paying civilian into outer space using the 50-mile high definition of outer space (see notes 1). Former Canadian astronaut and the former commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield has decorated Branson with an Astronaut Badge.
The federal space agency NASA considers the boundary of space to be 50 miles (80.4 km) above sea level, while internationally many agencies use the Kármán line (see notes 1) as the boundary.
Branson’s journey to space (the rocket ship’s portion) took only about 15 minutes, about as long as Alan Shepard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961.
Richard Branson became the first person to blast off in his own spaceship in history, beating Blue Origin’s founder Jeff Bezos by nine days. He also became only the second septuagenarian to go to space after NASA astronaut John Glenn who flew on the Space Shuttle Discovery at age 77 in 1998.
With about 500 people watching, including Richard Branson’s family, a twin-fuselage aircraft with his space plane (Virgin Galactic) attached underneath took off in the first stage of the flight. The space plane then detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 8.5 miles (13 kilometers) and fired its engine, reaching a speed of more than Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, as it pierced the edge of space.
After his successful spaceflight, former Canadian astronaut and the former commander of the International Space Station Chris Hadfield has decorated Branson with an Astronaut Badge, saying “you are astronaut now”.
“That was an amazing accomplishment. I’m just so delighted at what this open door is going to lead to now. It’s a great moment.”
Former NASA astronaut Scott Kelly also congratulated Branson. Kelly announced:
“Congratulations to Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic on today’s historic test flight – launching a new era in space tourism! The orbital perspective is real. Pushing boundaries for more people to experience it elevates humanity on Earth.”
Branson’s spaceflight was definitely a confidence-boosting plug for Virgin Galactic. The British-American aerospace company plans to start taking paying customers on spaceflights next year.
Virgin Galactic already has more than 600 reservations from would-be space tourists, with tickets initially costing $250,000 per seat.