Sir Richard Branson hails ‘experience of a lifetime’ after flying to edge of space

  • ITV News Emma Murphy reports on Sir Richard Branson's time in space.

Sir Richard Branson hailed the “experience of a lifetime” after flying to the edge of space aboard Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight.

The 71-year-old billionaire businessman smiled as he headed back to the planet surface after feeling the thrill of weightlessness for several minutes on Sunday afternoon.

"It's just so lovely to be able to do something in these days of Covid where kids can be awestruck and they can get excited," he told ITV News.

But something else was also on his mind as he said: "Go and watch the football now!" referring to England's Euro 2020 final match against Italy in Wembley.

The launch was hailed a “landmark moment” for the billionaire businessman, as well as the whole commercial space industry.

Take-off had been delayed by about 90 minutes on Sunday due to the weather overnight at Spaceport America in New Mexico, in the US.

But video streamed live online showed the Virgin Galactic in the air at about 3.45pm UK time, and the aircraft had reached 40,000 feet by 4pm.

About 500 people were watching, including Branson’s wife, children and grandchildren, as a twin-fuselage aircraft with his space plane attached underneath took off.

The spacecraft was carried up into the atmosphere by its mothership before being released so it could power up to highs of 250,000 feet.

Sir Richard and his crew reached speeds of Mach 3 on their way to the edge of space.

The Virgin Galactic rocket plane, with founder Richard Branson and other crew members on board, lands back on earth. Credit: AP

After a short spell during which they experienced weightlessness, the craft then pointed downwards and made its way back to the ground, touching down around 4.40pm.

On the return flight, Sir Richard hailed the “experience of a lifetime” and the “hard, hard work” that went into the flight.

Sir Richard is the first owner-astronaut to take part in a mission, beating Amazon founder Jeff Bezos, who plans to reach space in his own rocket through his Blue Origin company.

On the ground, Michael Colglazier, chief executive of Virgin Galactic, said: “This is a landmark moment for Virgin Galactic.

“It’s a landmark moment for the new commercial space industry and it certainly is a landmark moment for our founder Richard Branson.”

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson is greeted by school children before heading to board the rocket plane. Credit: AP

He said the company’s work on Sunday was dedicated to “opening up space to all”.

Tourists are expected to pay 250,000 US dollars (£180,000) for a spaceflight on Virgin Galactic, which includes four minutes of zero gravity.

Amid what has been dubbed the billionaires’ space race, SpaceX has launched dozens of rockets, including manned flights, but Elon Musk himself has not yet flown on any.

The company is due to launch its first fully private spaceflight in the autumn.

Watch as Virgin Galactic launches to space: