To the edge of space and back

English businessman Richard Branson made history on July 11 as he and three other crew mates became the world’s first space tourists. The flight was made by a spacecraft named VSS Unity that was built by Branson’s company, Virgin Galactic. The flight lasted slightly more than an hour, and took Branson and crew to an altitude of 53.5 miles above Earth, just a little above the boundary of space which lies 50 miles above Earth.

At that height, the atmosphere turns into the black of outer space and the Earth becomes a curved ball of blue. Travelers also exhibit weightlessness as there no gravity (the force that keeps our bodies walking on the Earth’s surface). Therefore Branson and his companions were able to float around Unity’s cabin while enjoying the views (see photo above). They were able to do that for three minutes, before the spacecraft began its downward journey. It landed back at Virgin Galactic’s space port in New Mexico, United States, the same place from where it had taken off 90 minutes before.

On landing back, Branson said, “I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid but honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space. It was just magical. … I’m just taking it all in, it’s unreal.”

The world’s first tourist space flight has an Indian connection – Branson was accompanied by Sirisha Bandla, who is of Indian origin. Bandla works for Branson’s company where she is in charge of working with the US government.

July 11’s flight is the start of space tourism for one and all. In early 2022, customers who can afford a ticket for a quarter of a million dollars can line up for a seat on a trip to space. And guess what – they will have a choice of spacecraft. Jeff Bezos, who owns Amazon, is all set to launch himself into space on July 20 on board a spacecraft built by his company Blue Origin. Blue Origin will also ferry tourists to space.

Interested in how Branson’s flight was engineered? Check out the graphic below that charts the flight. The rocket ship that Branson traveled on was transported on a massive plane to a certain elevation before the two separated. Unity then fired its own rockets to climb into outer space.

trip

Image credit: Virgin Galactic