The sky is over the U.S. space airport in Las Cruces, New Mexico, blazed with thunder last night. The storm was fierce enough to delay the planned launch of its twin aircraft, the mother ship Virgin Galactic Eve and a spacecraft called the VSS Unity, from their hangar. The delay meant the take-off of today’s planned flight, which will send the crew Unity 50 miles above Earth, it would be moved in 90 minutes.
But never mind – Richard Branson still had plenty of time to kill Jeff Bezos into space.
And he did. At 9:25 a.m., about 45 minutes after taking off from the spaceport in delayed time, a component of the two spacecraft, Unity, was ready for release Eve. Branson and five of his colleagues – two pilots, three other mission specialists – were on board. Branson waited for the rocket engine to start with a smile on his face. Then the fire burst out of the vehicle and in a little less than two minutes it reached a height. Branson was on the edge of space, about 80 miles up. Fifteen minutes later, Branson and his crew returned to Earth, ready to discuss how Virgin Galactic would offer an identical experience to anyone willing to pay $ 250,000 or so. Hundreds are already on the waiting list.
Branson is the king of the spectacle, so it’s no surprise that the launch had a festival feel. A few hours before the launch, Branson’s Twitter feed, along with the content of his colleagues, was full of smooth videos intended to show the heroic journey. We saw him get to the spaceport by bike – pedaling across the Atlantic? – welcoming their colleagues from the crew, who had already been decorated in their specially designed design. Under Armor suits. “You’re late!” they told him. “Get dressed!”
A longer version of the video showed them being recorded in a diary, and Branson identified himself as Astronaut 001. Virgin Galactic CEO posted a photo of a welcome observer at the launch – Elon Musk. As Branson walked to the launch pad, he was surrounded by cheering spectators; he paused for a walk, pounding his fist to sign some souvenirs offered by small children. The live feed itself was hosted by Stephen Colbert. In the wings waited Khalid, who wrote the song “New Normal”, which will be presented at the end of the ride.
The only disappointment was that the King of Media live feed in the capsule failed during two minutes of actual space travel. Viewers are forbidden to look at Branson and the crew members spinning in weightless bliss. (The closest we had were about three seconds of heavily pixelated limbs waving around.) Nor did we hear from the British entrepreneur during his time free of gravity. “We will surely capture his magic words and share them with the world when they become available,” one of Virginia’s commentators said on a live feed.
Behind today’s flight of Virgin Galactic lurks some not so warm and murky competition of billionaires. After a successful test flight with the crew in May, Virgin Galactic’s plan was to hold three more test flights with Branson this year, and the second is one of them. But later Bezos announced to be among the passengers on the Blue Origin crew’s first flight, Branson quickly changed Virgin’s timetable. Unity it would take off back on a July 11 flight, with the fastest turnaround the company has made. And Branson would be on board, along with a full cabin of his employees. In addition to personal risk, there was also financial: Virgin Galactic became a public company at the end of 2019 by merging with an existing firm on the stock exchange, and a failed flight would shit, in terms of stock price.