Richard Branson has taken off on his trek to suborbital space on Virgin Galactic’s Unity 22 craft, marking a milestone for private space travel.
The British billionaire and a crew of five others departed around 7:40 a.m. PT from the Spaceport America facility in Truth or Consequences, N.M. The flight is expected to last about 90 minutes in total and allow the crew of the plane-shaped craft to achieve weightlessness for a few minutes before returning to Earth.
Stephen Colbert is hosting Virgin Galactic’s live stream of the event, which will feature speakers and a musical performance once the Unity 22 returns to earth.
The Unity 22 craft took off with the boost of a traditional jet plane. Unity 22 was designed to be tethered to the “mothership” jet until it reached about 50,000 feet. At that point Unity 22 is expected to detach from the aircraft and head further up about 125 miles into the atmosphere. The craft will not totally leave Earth’s orbit but Branson and crew members are expected to achieve weightlessness.
Branson hopes the media attention around today’s Unity 22 flight will jumpstart Virgin Galactic’s commercial space travel business. Virgin Galactic’s live stream of the flight included heavy promotion for future flights, emphasizing how similar it is to riding in a plane. At a certain altitude, the cabin “turns into a spacious three-dimensional playground” as passengers can float around in a gravity-free environment.
More to come
(Pictured: Stephen Colbert hosting Virgin Galactic’s live stream of Unity 22 flight)
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