It is everyone’s dream as a child to reach the stars one day and see our big blue planet as a whole from up there. On July 11, this very dream came true for Sir Richard Branson, Founder of Virgin Galactic. Sir Richard Branson’s main motive for inventing Virgin Galactic in 2004 was to create a gateway through which he can send private citizens to outer space for a once in a lifetime experience. Yesterday, he himself fulfilled that dream and had become the first billionaire to travel to space aboard a spacecraft he helped fund.
The Company decided to name the Space Craft Carrier( WhiteKnight) Eve in memory of Richard’s late mother Eve and the spacecraft(SpaceShipTwo) Unity as named by the late Stephen Hawking. The Number 22 suggests it was the 22nd flight of Unity, but only its fourth launch to space. The spacecraft was released from the Spaceport America, which is located 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
Unlike traditional space travel where the spacecraft circles around the earth for a prolonged period of time, Richard Branson’s journey to space was a brief one, lasting for around 45 minutes in total. On the spacecraft were 6 members, 4 mission specialists and 2 pilots:
Sirisha Bandla, Vice President of Government Affairs and Research Operations at Virgin Galactic. She was tasked with evaluating the human-tended research experience via an experiment from the University of Florida that requires several handheld fixation tubes to be activated at various points in the flight profile.
Colin Bennett, Lead Operations Engineer at Virgin Galactic who was to evaluate cabin equipment, procedures and the experience during the boost phase and weightless environment inside Unity.
Beth Moses, Chief Astronaut Instructor at Virgin Galactic who served as cabin lead and test director in space. Her tasks included overseeing the safe execution of the test flight objectives. Moses has launched on Unity before.
And Ofcourse, Richard Branson, whose task was to evaluate the private experience and find ways to refine the experience that people buying tickets from Virgin Galactic will face.
The two pilots were Scotland’s Dave Mackay and the US’s Mike Masucci, both of whom had Air Force experience in their respective countries.
The Mothership and the spacecraft flew together until an altitude of about 46300 ft was reached when they separated. Afterwards, the spacecraft containing Richard Branson and the rest of the crew reached a top speed of 3.1 Mach speed(3827.88 km/hr.) in a supersonic journey until it started decelerating and reached a maximum height of 282000 ft. before starting to descend. The passengers are thought to have felt some weightlessness at the top of their exhilarating climb during which they had floated inside the spacecraft and looked outside their windows to witness a jaw-dropping view of the earth. “Pictures don’t do it justice. It’s just so bright and beautiful. I saw the ocean, and halfway up the US and halfway down into Mexico. I saw the green of the land and the white snow-capped mountains,” Beth Moses, one of the crew members told BBC News.
Once the top of the climb was reached and the crew had a wonderful view of the Earth, the mission specialists had to strap back on to their seats and for a return to Planet Earth. Supersonic air flew over the vehicle in the folded tailbooms and shockwaves were created which helped the spacecraft break the sound barrier.
The Livestream surely looked like Richard Branson and the Crew had beheld a majestic scene up there in space.To think that a person like Richard Branson is so close to enabling space travel for the common folk is truly exciting for what the future holds.
To quote Sir Richard Branson,
“ To all you kids out there, I was once a child with a dream, looking up to the stars.Now, I am an adult in a spaceship with lots of other adults, looking down at our beautiful, beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do!”. Truly very inspiring!