Richard Branson carried his family with him to space.
The billionaire business mogul and founder of Virgin Galactic revealed the high-flying snapshots of his parents and kids (opens in new tab) just hours after he and his "Unity 22" crewmates landed from the first fully crewed test flight of the SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity (opens in new tab) rocket plane on Sunday (July 11).
"I brought some mementos. I think you should always bring mementos (opens in new tab)," Branson said during a post-flight press conference at Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Branson's choice of keepsakes were small photographs showing his children ("my kids when they were a little bit littler") and his mom and dad.
"The [VSS Unity] mothership is called 'Eve,' and that was in her memory," Branson said, referring to his mother. "I know she'd be proud."
Branson also carried a photo of an unnamed woman — "a lovely lady who wanted to go to space" — but who died before she achieved her dream. "Her family asked if I would bring up this picture, which I was delighted to do."
Digging back into his pocket, he revealed one last photo he had with him on the hour-long suborbital spaceflight. Unlike the others, which were normal-size prints, this one was no bigger than a postage stamp.
"Somebody else asked me if I could bring up a picture of them. It was a bit heavy, so I brought up his head. Anybody recognize that head?" Branson asked.
The photo of Stephen Colbert was a friendly jab at the comedian and "Late Night" talk show host, who has long made fun of Branson and his exploits. Colbert continued the jokes earlier in the day while hosting the live online broadcast of the Unity 22 launch.
"I think we all brought up mementos," said Branson, inviting the rest of the crew to chime in.
In addition to Branson and SpaceShipTwo pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, the Unity 22 crew also included (opens in new tab) Virgin Galactic's chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses; lead operations engineer Colin Bennett; and Sirisha Bandla, vice president for government affairs and research operations.
"I brought up my husband's wedding band," said Bandla. "Our wedding didn't really go as planned due to COVID, but he's still here, so... I brought a piece of him up with me."
She also carried a flag for her alma mater, Purdue University ("Boiler Up!"), photos of her family and a lapel pin in memory of an advocate for commercial spaceflight.
"I brought a pin that was made and designed by Matthew Isakowitz," Bandla said. "He unfortunately passed away a few years ago. We started a fellowship in his honor for students to get into the commercial spaceflight industry and just [get] excited and contribute. So I brought a pin up, which I will gift to his family."
Bennett also plans to gift items that he flew.
"For me, this was all about trying to inspire the next generation and school kids to try to follow their dreams and achieve amazing things in the future," he said. "So I got in touch with my high school, and the headmaster was kind enough to send a flag from the high school, and then one from University of Illinois where I went."
"I wanted to take those up and I'll send those back and I think they will find a good place to put them," said Bennett, revealing the small banners from his leg pocket.
Life in space
Unlike Bennett, Bandla and Branson, who were all first-time fliers, Moses was making her second spaceflight aboard VSS Unity.
For this trip, she picked something special.
"Inside our suits, we have inner pockets," Moses said. "I tucked as many flowers in my inner pockets as I could for my loved ones and to represent life."
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