Virgin Galactic's Richard Branson just made history as the very first human being to successfully fly into orbit on their own spaceship — dubbed Unity. Per the Associated Press, the 70-year-old billionaire reached an altitude of 88 kilometers (or 53 miles) over the New Mexico desert with a five-person crew. While the jaunt was rather brief (only 15-minutes-long), it still allowed all six people "to experience three to four minutes of weightlessness and see the curvature of the Earth," writes AP.
Elon Musk, who is currently working alongside NASA to bring privatized space travel to the eager masses, wished Branson "Godspeed!" on Twitter prior to the launch. Following Unity's safe return to the ground, the SpaceX mastermind wrote: "Congratulations, beautiful flight!"
The Late Show's Stephen Colbert served as master of ceremonies for the event, which was attended by 500 people, including Branson’s wife, children, and grandchildren. Musical artists Khalid was also there to perform his latest single: "New Normal."
“Seventeen years of hard work to get us this far,” Branson remarked after touchdown. He is only the second individual in their 70s to travel to space after a 77-year-old John Glenn took part in a mission board the space shuttle Discovery in 1998. "Welcome to the dawn of a new space age," Branson added on Twitter. Virgin Galactic reportedly has over 600 reservations from excited "space tourists," who have already paid $250,000 for a ticket aboard one of the company's official trips.
“It’s a whole new horizon out there, new opportunities, new destinations,” former NASA astronaut Chris Ferguson told AP. “This is really sort of like the advent of commercial air travel, only 100 years later. There’s a lot waiting in the wings.
"I’ve always been a dreamer," Branson shared on Twitter at the start of July when confirming Unity's launch date. "My mum taught me to never give up and to reach for the stars."
Jeff Bezos is set to become the second person to accomplish this feat next Tuesday (July 20) via Blue Origin's first crewed mission. The Amazon founder still hopes to set his own historical benchmark by reaching 100 kilometers (or 62 miles) above the Earth for space tourism purposes.
Branson, who was originally supposed to take flight later in the summer, apparently shot down speculation that he moved up the date to beat Bezos to the punch.