Sir Richard Branson Blasts Off To The Edge Of Space On Virgin Atlantic Rocket
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Sir Richard Branson has been blasted up towards the edge of space on his Virgin Galactic spaceship after launching from Spaceport America in New Mexico.
The flight, which Branson described as a 'private astronaut experience' was pushed back for a while due to the overnight weather, but Branson did eventually manage to achieve lift-off, becoming the first owner-astronaut to take part in a space mission.
Fellow billionaires Elon Musk and Amazon chief Jeff Bezos also have aspirations of heading up into space via their respective SpaceX and Blue Origin programmes.
The spacecraft, called Unity22, was flown up to a great height by a mothership called Eve - named after Branson's mother - and then blasted off up to the edge of space from an aerial launch point.
Tourists are expected to pay 250,000 US dollars (£180,000) for a spaceflight on Virgin Galactic, which includes four minutes of zero gravity.
The Sunday Times newspaper reported that Elon Musk - who owns rival exploration company SpaceX - has paid for a seat on a future Virgin voyage.
Mr Musk paid a 10,000-dollar (£7,000) deposit to reserve a seat but no date for his flight has been specified.
Sir Richard confirmed the purchase in an interview with the newspaper, saying he might reciprocate by booking a ticket on a SpaceX flight in the future.
"Elon's a friend and maybe I'll travel on one of his ships one day," he said.
Amid what has been dubbed the billionaires' space race, SpaceX has launched dozens of rockets, including manned flights, but Mr Musk himself has not yet flown on any.
The company is due to launch its first fully private spaceflight in the autumn.
During the flight, Branson will experience several minutes of zero gravity, as well as enjoying some spectacular views of our home planet beneath.
With any luck, the craft will then drop back into the gravitational pull of the earth, and the wings will fold back down, having folded up for the duration of the time at the edge of space, allowing the spacecraft to guide itself back to the very same runway that it left.
If this flight is successful, it will almost certainly pave the way for more of the world's wealthiest people to take a trip out to space, enjoy zero gravity, and come back down safely.
It could be a while before anyone but the super-rich can get out there, though.