Branson soars to space and back aboard own winged craft, launching new era of civilian exploration

The Sunday launch touched off a new era of space tourism with fellow billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk soon to follow.
Richard Branson

Billionaire entrepreneur Richard Branson soared into space Sunday morning aboard his own winged Virgin Galactic spacecraft, touching off a new era of civilian space tourism.

Branson returned from space with his crew of five after a 90-minute flight that reached 50 miles above earth, the limit the FAA considers the edge of space. The actual space plane part of the flight lasted 15 minutes, which is about as long as the first American flight to space in 1961 by Alan Shepard.

“The whole thing, it was just magical,” Branson said upon his return, according to the Associated Press.

The launch in New Mexico, which had been delayed about 90 minutes due to weather, is the last test mission before Branson and other billionaires open a space tourism business.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” Branson tweeted before liftoff, sharing a photo of himself with fellow billionaire and space-tourism rival Elon Musk.

In a separate tweet he captured the bold goal of his mission. “Great to be opening up space for all,” he wrote.

You can watch the launch here.

The 70-year-old Brit wasn’t supposed to fly until later this summer but moved himself up to an earlier flight to move ahead of fellow billionaire Jeff Bezos planned space flight on July 20.

Bezos congratulated Branson on the flight, saying, "Can’t wait to join the club!"

Musk and Bezos use rockets to launch capsules in the space, while Branson uses a winged craft as the race to create a global space tourism industry showed different approaches to launch.