Branson and crew landed safely after trip to edge of space


By Kenneth Chang


Richard Branson finally got his trip to space Sunday.


It has been a very long wait for Branson, the irreverent, 70-year-old British billionaire who leads a galaxy of Virgin companies. In 2004, he founded Virgin Galactic to provide adventurous tourists with rides on rocket-powered planes to the edge of space and back.


At the time, he thought commercial service would begin in two to three years. Instead, close to 17 years have passed. Virgin Galactic said it still has three more test flights to conduct, including the one Sunday, before it can be ready for paying passengers.


Cars drove Branson and his crewmates to the plane Sunday, and the flight took off Sunday morning around 10:40 a.m. Eastern time from Spaceport America in New Mexico, about 180 miles south of Albuquerque. Virgin is broadcasting coverage of the flight and its aftermath.


The space plane separated from the carrier ship around 11:25 a.m. and ignited its engine for about 60 seconds, carrying Branson and the crew into space. Video footage from the livestream showed him and the crew experiencing weightlessness.


Minutes later, the plane began its return to Earth in a glide and soon landed safely on the spaceport’s runway. Branson, speaking into a camera in the plane’s cabin during the glide, called it “an experience of a lifetime.”