A new video from Virgin Galactic shows Branson moving past the headquarters and pulling up to the launch area of VSS Unity, situated about 55 miles (88 kilometers) north of Las Cruces, New Mexico.
“The name’s Branson, Sir Richard Branson,” Branson said as he signed Virgin Galactic’s flight logbook. “Astronaut 001 with a license to thrill.”
In the video, Branson cheerfully parks the bike, hands it off to a staff member and exchanges excited hugs with the rest of the Unity 22 passengers: Beth Moses, Virgin Galactic’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, Virgin Galactic lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research operations at the company.
Their spacecraft, VSS Unity, will be piloted by Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, with C.J. Sturckow and Kelly Latimer piloting the carrier ship, VMS Eve. The launch of SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity and its carrier plane, VMS Eve, were delayed 90 minutes by bad weather.
The 70-year-old Branson has been wanting to fly in space ever since watching the Apollo 11 crew land on the moon in 1969. Back then, of course, only governments were able to afford the cost of launching technology. Several decades of advances in computers, materials and business processes have now made it possible for several companies (like Branson’s) to start thinking of offering spaceflights.
That said, it’s been a long journey for Branson. He founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to make a private spaceliner to fly paying passengers into space and it has taken nearly two decades of test flights and dealing with various issues, including a fatal test flight in 2014, to get to the launch pad today.
The company’s current flagship, SpaceShipTwo VSS Unity, has a maximum capacity of eight people, including two pilots and six passengers. The company aims to begin launching customers in 2022, with tickets selling for $250,000 apiece.
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