Should I ever find $200,000 while hunting beneath the cushions of my couch — and 199,999 other couches — then I would see nothing inherently wrong with spending that money on taking a trip into space with Richard Branson’s Virgin Galactic. They’ve been working the last two years on a rocket-propelled passenger craft, performing many test “flights” where the craft was dropped from a carrier plane and successfully glided without power back down to Earth. Well, they recently pulled out the rocket power, and man does that thing fly.
Richard Branson described his anticipation for the event in a Twitter post, saying, “Occasionally you have days that are ridiculously exciting. Today is such a day.” At around 8:00 AM Monday morning, the WhiteKnightTwo carrier reached an altitude of 50,000 ft and released the SpaceShipTwo, piloted by Mark Stucky and Mike Alsbury. Once it got clear of the plane, the SpaceShipTwo blasted off towards the upper atmosphere, hurtling forward at supersonic speeds for around 16 seconds before the shutting off engine power. It’s truly a sight to be seen.
“It marks the moment when we put together two key elements of our spaceflight system — the spacecraft and its rocket motor, which have both been tested extensively by themselves over several years — and start the phase of testing that will demonstrate our vehicle’s ability to go to space (hopefully later this year),” Branson wrote in a blog post.
Simply beautiful, and definitely the best way the sound barrier will be broken this week. Richard Branson wants to populate Mars, and this is his first step in getting there. With both Europe and Russia gearing up for their own space travel business, the lucrative U.S. market is Branson’s to lose. Or share with the multitude of other U.S. companies eyeing those space dollars. Just be suspicious if that company has the word “catapult” in its name.