Billionaire Richard Branson reaches space in his own ship

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Washington, July 11 (BNA): Swashbuckling entrepreneur Richard Branson hurtled into space aboard his own winged rocket ship Sunday in his boldest adventure yet, beating out fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos, said AP.


The nearly 71-year-old Branson and five crewmates from his Virgin Galactic space-tourism company reached an altitude of about 53 miles (88 kilometers) over the New Mexico desert — enough to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth — and then safely glided to a runway landing.


The brief, up-and-down flight — the rocket ship’s portion took only about 15 minutes, or about as long as Alan Shepard’s first U.S. spaceflight in 1961 — was intended as a confidence-boosting plug for Virgin Galactic, which plans to start taking paying customers on joyrides next year.


Branson became the first person to blast off in his own spaceship, beating Bezos by nine days. He also became only the second septuagenarian to go into space. (Astronaut John Glenn flew on the shuttle at age 77 in 1998.)


With about 500 people watching, including Branson’s family, a twin-fuselage aircraft with Unity attached underneath took off in the first stage of the flight.


Unity then detached from the mother ship at an altitude of about 8 1/2 miles (13 kilometers) and fired its engine, reaching more than Mach 3, or three times the speed of sound, as it pierced the edge of space.


Virgin Galactic conducted three previous test flights into space with crews of just two or three.


 AHN