Virgin Galactic: For a showman like Richard Branson, his space trip is more than a publicity stunt | US news
Richard Branson’s fateful moment in space will take place 50 miles above a city called Truth or Consequences.
In the high desert of New Mexico, a dream that was born when Branson saw the moon landing two days after his 19th birthday, he hopes will finally be realized.
It’s been a long journey for the billionaire, and this vertical journey will take place more than a decade after he was originally envisioned.
That seems irrelevant now, since – hours before England’s footballers I hope to make history at Wembley – Branson expects to reach his own climax as the first billionaire, space tourism tycoon to become an astronaut.
His wife and family will be there to watch.
Hours before takeoff, standing under the rocket of his Unity spacecraft was a little humiliating.
Held under its mother ship, the small, airplane-like spaceship looks almost too thin for the mission.
In the air-conditioned cool of the Spaceport America hangar, the final fine-tuning was carried out shortly after sunrise in the scorching heat.
Two pilots, three mission specialists and a tycoon will shoot vertically at three times the speed of sound for a few minutes of weightlessness, an incomparable view of the earth and an equally quick start to descend.
If they’re okay, they slide back to the runway.
Branson will beat Amazon founders Jeff Bezos into space in nine days and few can truly believe his claim that he doesn’t care to win the race.
Bezos’ Blue Origin team has raised questions about whether Branson will ever get into space.
They agree with some that 62 miles in height is the real deal, while Branson happily takes that NASA‘s verdict that an astronaut is 50 miles high.
But for a lifelong showman like Branson, this is more than a mere publicity stunt or even making that childhood dream come true.
When you take a seat on board, a message is sent to the hundreds who have spent tens of thousands of pounds to secure a seat that their voyage is about to take place and is safe.
Nobody can rule out the risks. A pilot died seven years ago when one of Unity’s predecessors split up on a test flight. As they always say, space is hard.
For Branson, this is just as much about business as it is about the high ideals of opening up other space for us.
You still have to be very rich to even dream of joining one of the commercial missions.
And there’s no denying that a successful mission will mark a new era in space travel for Branson.