Virgin Galactic's first-ever spaceflight last week spurred company founder Sir Richard Branson to pen a touching letter to his grandkids.
VSS Unity, Virgin Galactic's second SpaceShipTwo vehicle, reached a peak altitude of 51.4 miles (82.7 kilometers) during a test flight on Dec. 13 — a milestone that could help pave the way for passenger flights in the coming months. A new video shows highlights of the epic flight, with Branson reading aloud from his letter, which tells his grandchildren that the future is theirs for the taking.
"I used to think of space as a destination, but now I realize it's a journey with some amazing milestones along the way," Branson said. "Today, we pass the most significant of them all as our beautiful VSS Unity, along with hopes and dreams of so many, became the first spaceship built for regular passenger service to put humans into space." [In Photos: Virgin Galactic's SpaceShipTwo Unity Soars to Space]
While the video serves mainly as a promotional piece, it still contains an important message that applies to everyone: the exploration of space is just as important today as it's ever been, and the next generation must continue the push toward the final frontier.
The video also contains some beautiful, breathtaking and brand-new footage of the Dec. 13 flight, including some reactions from onlookers. The little kid gazing up at the sky with his mouth agape is priceless.
The Dec. 13 flight launched from the Mojave Air and Space Port in California at 4:15 a.m. EST (0915 GMT; 7:15 a.m. local California time) with VSS Unity attached to its carrier aircraft, VMS Eve. The two successfully separated 45 minutes after liftoff at an altitude of more than 9.3 miles (15 kilometers); SpaceShipTwo then engaged its rocket motor for 60 seconds, reaching a top speed of Mach 2.9.
Though the flight was brief, the mission passed the 50-mile altitude used by the U.S. Air Force for awarding astronaut wings. (This demarcation is the subject of some debate, however, with others arguing the boundary of space ought to lie at 62 miles, or 100 km.)
Branson says his own spaceflight will follow in a matter of months. Speaking to CBS News, he said he's "itching to go" to space and estimated he'll get there within the next six months. Virgin Galactic plans to conduct two or three more similar tests and move its operations to New Mexico before sending Branson himself 50 miles above the Earth.
If you weren't already aching to go into orbit, this video could persuade you. Tickets for a ride into orbit with Virgin Galactic cost in the region of $250,000 each, however, so you might want to start saving those pennies.