Critical Overview: Branson’s Flight to the Edge of Space
Sir Richard Branson, a prominent UK businessman, is currently fulfilling his long-standing ambition of flying to the edge of space aboard his Virgin Galactic rocket plane. The spacecraft is embarking on a 1.5-hour mission that will reach an altitude beyond which the sky turns black and the Earth’s horizon curves away into the distance. Branson, the entrepreneur behind the project, has expressed the desire to evaluate the experience before allowing paying customers to board next year. The mission began on July 11, 2021, shortly after 08:30 EST (15:30 BST) over New Mexico, and Virgin Galactic provided an online stream of the event.
Branson’s journey to this point has been a challenging venture, considering technical difficulties such as a fatal crash during a development flight in 2014. He first announced his intention to build a space plane in 2004, expecting to have a commercial service ready by 2007. However, the unexpected complications and risks have hindered his plans. Despite these setbacks, he remains undeterred and looks forward to enabling hundreds of thousands of other people over the next 100 years to experience space travel.
Branson’s interest in space travel is driven by his desire for people to appreciate the extraordinary universe and to look back at our beautiful Earth, which he believes can inspire people to work hard to preserve it. He argues that space travel should be accessible to everyone since space is magnificent, and people should have the opportunity to look at our planet and appreciate its beauty.
The vehicle carrying Branson, known as Unity, will be carried by a much larger aeroplane to an altitude of about 15km (50,000ft), where it will be released. A rocket motor in the back of Unity will ignite, blasting the ship skyward. The motor will burn for 60 seconds, during which time Branson and his three crewmates, alongside the two pilots up front, will enjoy a remarkable view of the planet below. Unity can reach an altitude of approximately 90km (55 miles or 295,000ft), and towards the top of the climb, Branson will experience weightlessness and float around the cabin, admiring the view. He will eventually return to Earth, gliding back to the spaceport in New Mexico.
Beth Moses, the chief astronaut instructor at Branson’s Virgin Galactic company, will provide instruction throughout the flight. Moses is the only person who has experienced the exhilaration of an ascent aside from the firm’s test pilots. She describes the view out of the window as “just phenomenal,” and the experience has “stuck in her soul.”
Unlike a spacecraft that can orbit the earth, Unity is a sub-orbital vehicle that cannot achieve the velocity and altitude necessary to circle the globe. The only other sub-orbital system close to the market is owned by Amazon.com founder, Jeff Bezos, who will fly on its inaugural crewed flight on July 20, 2021. Bezos intends to ride just over 100km above Texas with his brother, Mark, the aviator Wally Funk, and an individual who bid $28m (£20m) for a ticket in an auction.
Sir Richard Branson’s flight to the edge of space is a culmination of his decades-long ambition to experience space travel. The journey represents a significant milestone in Branson’s quest to make space accessible to everyone. However, the road to realizing his dream has been long and arduous, with numerous technical difficulties and setbacks, including a fatal crash in 2014. Despite these challenges, Branson remains committed to his vision and aims to enable hundreds of thousands of people to experience space travel in the next century