Billionaire Richard Branson flew to space in his company Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane on Sunday.
— NBC News (@NBCNews) July 11, 2021
After takeoff from the Spaceport America facility in New Mexico, the VSS Unity spacecraft detached from the VMS Eve launch plane and passed the “Armstrong Line” about 50 miles above the Earth’s surface. The Federal Aviation Administration defines space as beginning at the Armstrong Line.
Branson, who started as a record-store owner in the 1970’s and built a fortune over the next several decades as head of Virgin Group, had founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to facilitate space tourism. While Branson had at the time expected space tourism to be viable within several years, the development process has taken longer than expected.
“We’ve spent 14 years working on our space program,” Branson told Bloomberg Television in 2018. “And it’s been tough, and space is tough — it’s rocket science.”
Branson’s flight comes just nine days before fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos’s scheduled flight to space on a ship built by his own company, Blue Origin.
“I know nobody will believe me when I say it, but honestly, there isn’t” a rivalry between the two men, Branson said on NBC’s Today show on Tuesday.
Blue Origin said that its spacecraft New Shepard will take astronauts higher, to the “Karman Line,” about 62 miles above sea level. “One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin,” the company wrote on Twitter on Friday.
Only 4% of the world recognizes a lower limit of 80 km or 50 miles as the beginning of space. New Shepard flies above both boundaries. One of the many benefits of flying with Blue Origin. pic.twitter.com/4EAzMfCmYT
— Blue Origin (@blueorigin) July 9, 2021