The mission’s success allowed the swashbuckling septuagenarian to one-up fellow tycoon Jeff Bezos — who owns space company Blue Origin and is set to launch on July 20 — in the race to the final frontier.
“I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” Branson said, grinning during a post-flight ceremony where he and crewmates received their astronaut wings, before popping open the champagne to celebrate.
Branson, three fellow passengers and two pilots (all Virgin employees) breached the US-recognized boundary of space, reaching an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) and experiencing weightlessness for a few minutes aboard the VSS Unity. The spaceplane then lowered its wings and glided down to the ground at around 9:40 am Mountain Time (1540 GMT), about an hour after it had taken off attached to the belly of a massive carrier plane, which ascended 10 miles (15 kilometers) before dropping its payload.
The rocket-powered Unity achieved a top speed of Mach 3 as it soared to space.
Branson scooped up his grandchildren and hugged loved ones after the trip.
SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who came to watch the flight, quickly tweeted, “Congratulations, beautiful flight!”
Branson’s official role is to evaluate the private astronaut experience to enhance the journey for future clients.
The 70-year-old founder of Virgin Group, which today has interests in everything from commercial aviation to fitness centres, is known for his appetite for adventure and has set world records in hot air ballooning and boating. – NDTV