First of 3 billionaires makes trip out of this world

Release time:2021-07-12 Publisher:Lanka Voice

The first of three billionaires planning commercial space voyages took flight on Sunday as Richard Branson rose more than 50 miles above the New Mexico desert aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket plane, safely returning in the vehicle’s first flight to space with a full crew.
Branson, 70, and five crewmates from his space-tourism company reached an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) over the New Mexico desert — enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness — and then glided home to a runway landing.
He was joined by two company pilots and three Virgin Galactic crewmates on the launch from Spaceport America, near Truth or Consequences, New Mexico.
Two other billionaires — Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk, the latter of whom attended Sunday’s launch — also are set to kickstart commercial space voyages for ordinary people who want to travel out of this world.
“Congratulations on the flight,” Bezos said on Instagram. “Can’t wait to join the club!”
Space industry executives and future customers also were on hand to witness the livestreamed event.
Reaching its peak altitude at about 46,000 feet, the rocket plane was released from the mothership and fell away as the crew ignited its rocket, sending it up at supersonic speed.
At the apex of the climb with the rocket shut down, the crew then experienced a few minutes of microgravity, before the spaceplane shifted into re-entry mode and began a gliding descent. The entire flight, from takeoff to landing, lasted about an hour.
Branson announced last week that he would make his first space voyage in the VSS Unity. He is the first owner of a private space company to take his own spacecraft into space.
“I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now I’m an adult in a spaceship looking down to our beautiful Earth,” he said in a video from space.
He has touted the mission as a precursor to a new era of space tourism, with the company he founded in 2004 poised to begin commercial operations next year.
“We’re here to make space more accessible to all,” Branson said shortly after hugging his grandchildren after the flight. “Welcome to the dawn of a new Space Age.”
Bezos, 57, who retired as Amazon CEO on July 5, announced last month that he and his company Blue Origin will fly to space on July 20 on an 11-minute flight called the New Shepard — named after astronaut Alan Shepard, the second person and first US citizen to fly into space — with his brother Mark, 53.
Musk’s company SpaceX plans to send its first all-civilian crew (without Musk) into orbit in September, after having already launched numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA.
Bezos’ team claims that its flight will reach the true edge of space, going up 62 miles to Branson’s planned suborbital flight of 55 miles.
Blue Origin said that unlike Unity, Bezos’ New Shepard will top the 62-mile-high-mark (100 km), called the Kármán line, set by an international aeronautics body as defining the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space.
“New Shepard was designed to fly above the Kármán line so none of our astronauts have an asterisk next to their name,” Blue Origin said on Twitter on Friday.
However, US space agency NASA and the US Air Force both define an astronaut as anyone who has flown higher than 50 miles (80 km).
Bezos and Branson plan to use their space journeys to demonstrate that it is safe for humans to travel beyond Earth before they launch their space tourism ventures. Both of their space companies have been researching and testing the safety of their aircrafts for nearly 20 years.
Branson said of Virgin Galactic that “our aim is to bring the price of space travel down”, he told ABC News.
“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a previous statement. “After 16 years of research, engineering and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.”
In June, Branson moved one step closer to being able to offer commercial flights when the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) updated Virgin Galactic’s existing commercial space transportation operator license to allow the space line to fly customers to space. Virgin Galactic had held the operator’s license since 2016 but was allowed to run only test flights.
As space tourism gets closer to reality, anyone interested in such a voyage must have deep pockets. Branson could begin offering a full commercial service in 2022, and tickets for a Virgin Galactic flight could cost $250,000 each, according to the BBC.
At least 600 people already are on a waiting list, the British broadcaster reported. The Italian Air Force will be among the first to pay for a trip.
Blue Origin, founded by Bezos in 2000 and privately funded, is also hurtling closer toward offering space tourism. It will charge passengers $200,000 for a ticket to space, according to Reuters.
The world’s second-richest man with a net worth of $186.2 billion, Bezos has reportedly put more than $1 billion into the aerospace venture.
Meanwhile, SpaceX, run by Musk, also known as the CEO of electric-car company Tesla, is also making strides.
SpaceX was the first private company to take humans from the US to the International Space Station in May 2020. It plans to put a crew into orbit in September.
Musk, 51, said that he will fly Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa around the moon in 2023. But his ultimate goal is to help people venture to Mars.
Blue Origin’s space plane can take six passengers and flies autonomously. The SpaceX Dragon can carry up to seven people.
All of the planned flights will allow passengers to experience weightlessness for a specific time period. Blue Origin’s flight will last 10 minutes after it separates. And the SpaceX flight will last three to four days from launch to its ending.
Virgin Galactic flights are publicly funded, and the company’s shares took off in June after the FAA updated its license.
Bezos, Amazon’s founder, has said he would sell $1 billion in Amazon stock annually to fund the venture. Musk’s SpaceX is also privately owned. Investors include Alphabet and Fidelity.
An earlier prototype of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane crashed during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert in 2014, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.
Source - Reuters and The Associated Press

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