Richard Branson Says He’s Going to Send People Into Space by Christmas

To outer space!
SpaceShip 2 zooms
(Photo: Virgin Galactic)

Virgin Galactic, the spaceflight company established in 2004 to take tourists into space, has announced its intention send two test pilots into Low Earth Orbit (LEO) by Christmas.

This piece of braggadocio was broadcast to the world by Virgin Galactic founder, Sir Richard Branson. The flamboyant millionaire and adventurer declared he's "reasonably confident" Virgin Galactic will be the first to space with a crewed trip before Christmas, ahead of SpaceX and Blue Origin.

Some experts, however, are skeptical -- again. Sir Richard said the same thing 11 years ago but that bombast went nowhere. To his credit, Branson never said getting to this point would be easy or completely free from danger.

"Space is difficult. Rocket science is rocket science," said Branson. "This has taken us 14 long years, and it's taken Jeff Bezos 14 long years."

Branson said he's "reasonably confident that before Christmas we will (send people to space)."

Branson admitted the first few flights to space will be "the dangerous ones." The daredevil Branson plans to take the trip to LEO himself as the first passenger of his spaceplane, SpaceShip Two (SS2).

He also said his children will likely follow him into LEO, and will be among the first passengers to travel with Virgin Galactic to space.

"Virgin Galactic will be the first (in space)," said Branson emphatically.

The latest flight of VSS Unity (Branson's new spaceplane) on July 26 was the first to reach the mesosphere, which is the atmospheric layer located from 50 km to 100 km above sea level. Beyond the mesosphere is outer space.

The test flight was piloted by Dave Mackay and Mike 'Sooch' Masucci. SpaceShip 2 reached an altitude of 52 km and attained a maximum speed of 3,050 km/h.

This success showed that Branson's Virgin Group at last on the verge of attaining its long-cherished goal of carrying paying passengers into outer space for a few seconds.

Virgin Galactic is developing commercial spacecraft that will fly space tourists into space. It will also conduct suborbital launches for NASA space science missions, and scientific institutions worldwide. Virgin Galactic hasn't revealed when passenger flight operations will begin at its Mojave Air and Space Port in California.

VSS Unity entered space carried by its mothership, VMS Eve, which is named after Evette, Branson's mother. Both aircraft flew together to their release altitude of 14,200 meters. VSS Unity was then ejected, igniting its engine for a burn time of 42 seconds, the longest yet.

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