Richard Branson aims to notch a milestone for private space travel with Sunday’s launch of Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity Spaceship Two from New Mexico.
Branson, the Virgin Group business mogul who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004, will be part of a crew of six who are hoping to demonstrate the viability of the company’s plans for commercial space travel. The VSS Unity launch from Virgin Galactic’s 27-square-mile Spaceport America facility near Truth or Consequences, N.M., will be carried on a live stream offered via the Virgin Galactic website starting at 6 a.m. PT.
Stephen Colbert, host of CBS’ “The Late Show,” was recruited earlier this week as a last-minute host for the live stream after Colbert tweeted about Branson’s voyage. (The eccentric billionaire dropped his trousers during a 2017 appearance on “Late Show” to raise awareness for ocean conservation efforts.)
The VSS Unity is designed to vault into suborbital space after hitching a ride with a carrier airplane. At 50,000 feet, the VSS Unity is expected to drop from the wings of the carrier and fire its rockets to send the spacecraft about 125 miles above earth, allowing the crew to achieve weightlessness for a brief period before coming back down to terra firma.
Branson’s flight is part of the billionaire space race wave that will see Amazon founder Jeff Bezos and a few others blast off into suborbital space on July 20 in a craft and flight made possible by his Blue Origin exploration venture. Tesla mogul Elon Musk is behind SpaceX, which also is targeting the commercial space travel market.
In June, Virgin Galactic said it has received approval from the Federal Aviation Administration to move forward with plans to “fly customers into space” after a series of successful test flights.
Pictured: Unity 22 crew members Dave Mackay (chief pilot), Colin Bennett (lead operations engineer), Beth Moses (chief astronaut instructor), Richard Branson (Virgin Galactic founder), Sirisha Bandla (VP of government affairs and research operations) and Michael Masucci (pilot).
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