Virgin Galactic has unveiled a dramatic new video of its billionaire founder Richard Branson and five others launching into suborbital space on company's VSS Unity spacecraft and it looks like a heck of a ride.
The video opens with cockpit views of Branson and fellow passengers, listening to a countdown until VSS Unity is released from its carrier plane, VSS Eve. Moments later, a view from below shows the engine of the spaceplane firing to bring the crew on a suborbital parabola above the Earth's atmosphere.
As the engine shuts off, the camera view switches to a dramatic view below the spacecraft, showing the deserts of New Mexico and nearby regions.
Of the group, only Moses had been to space before, during a 2019 flight, although the definition of space can vary depending on if you consult the U.S. military, NASA and the Federal Aviation Administration (which together, recognize a boundary at 50 miles or 80 km in altitude) or the internationally recognized Kármán line at 62 miles or 100 km. All Virgin Galactic spaceflights to date have been below the Kármán line, but above the 50-mile mark.
The 70-year-old Branson peers out the window in the video, then gives a small speech reflecting upon the nearly 52-year wait he had to be an astronaut since watching the Apollo 11 astronauts land on the moon in 1969.
"To all you kids down there, I once was a child with a dream looking up to the stars. Now, I'm among them in a spaceship," said Branson, a billionaire who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to open up private spaceflight to more people while giving himself the chance to become an astronaut, too. (Ticket prices remain high at $250,000 a seat, although Virgin Galactic announced a contest to bring two members of the public into space in 2022.)
"If we can do this, just imagine what you can do," Branson adds, as his crew members gleefully (and carefully) bounce off the walls of the spacecraft nearby. The usually athletic Branson, who rode to the launch pad on a bike, appears to prefer carefully balancing just above the seats while floating, repeatedly crying "Oh my God" before proclaiming "This is just too unbelieveable."
As views of the Earth and sun below float by the windows, the crew finishes up their four minutes of weightlessness with more window-gazing; in the case of Bandla, there's a brief glimpse of her manipulating the tube containing a NASA-funded experiment by the University of Florida to study plant behavior in microgravity. Future Virgin Galactic spaceflights will also fly such experiments to do microgravity research.
The pilots then issue a command to the crew to return to their seats and strap in for re-entry. The video closes with VSS Unity soaring once again above Spaceport America en route to a touchdown. In the closing seconds, Branson enthusiastically gives a double-thumbs up to the camera.
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