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  • Giles Stuart - Tech Journalist

Sir Richard Branson finally achieves his childhood dream with the launch of Virgin Galactic

With the successful launch of Virgin Galactic in New Mexico on Sunday 11th July, Sir Richard Branson flew to the outer edge of space and back down to earth, marking the start of space tourism, beating Jeff Bezos by nine days. At a press conference prior to launch, Sir Richard announced, "What a day. What a day. What a day. I think like most kids I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid and honestly nothing can compare you for the view of Earth from space."

It marked the first "test of the customer experience. Branson declared, "Welcome to the dawn of a new space age. It is just magical. I am just taking it all in. It's just unreal." Branson and this crew were handed their Virgin Galactic astronaut wings to mark the occasion.

Unity 22 lifted off from the New Mexico desert, attached under the 'mothership' VMS Eve, named in memory of Sir Richard's mother with the launch having been initially delayed an hour or so due to unfavourable weather conditions. At 46,000 feet, VMS Eve separated from its payload and Virgin Galactic fell away underneath and a few seconds later, its rockets ignited, blasting it skywards and into history and the start of space tourism.

Space tourism aboard Virgin Galactic, will however, come with a hefty big price, with tickets costlng £175,000 ($250,000) each for the 90 minute flight. For that, you get the training to enable you to get your Virgin Galactic astronaut wings with the ultimate goal of reaching the outer edge of earth with breathtaking views of our blue planet. A memory to last a lifetime. Ultimately the aim is to reduce the ticket price down to £30,700 ($40,000) over the next decade, allowing others to experience the thrills of space flight for themselves.

Among those who have already booked a seat on future flights are Hollywood A-listers Angelina Jolie, Brad Pitt, Leonardo DiCaprio and Lady Gaga with another 700 celebrities and scientists putting their names down too, with the added bonus of experiencing zero-gravity.

In a Simpson's episode realised in 2014, the show correctly predicted that Sir Richard would indeed fulfil his lifelong ambition to go into space. He can be seen relaxing in zero gravity in a cartoon scene, not too dissimilar to the actual footage broadcast live at the Sunday launch. The Simpsons have predicted rather a lot of events that have actually become reality, with the most high profile event being the election of Donald Trump as US President.

Within the next nine days, Jeff Bezos' Blue Origin will be launched, but this time on a rocket from a fixed launch site. Jeff Bezos will be joined by his brother and an honoured guest, 82 year old Ms. Wally Funk, who in the 1960s underwent flight training with 19,600 flight hours and went on to train 3,000 people to fly. She will become the oldest person to ever go into space. The fourth passenger on the flight is Oliver Daemen, an 18-year-old high school graduate bound for the University of Utrecht; a mystery person who paid £20 million ($28 million) for what was to be the forth seat at a special auction, will actually now fly on a later mission. Eventually passengers will be launched 62 miles above earth, allowing them to experience microgravity inside the capsule, with the trip lasting about 10 minutes. The capsule then descends to earth, tethered beneath a parachute.


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