British billionaire Sir Richard Branson has reached the edge of space in a Virgin Galactic vehicle.
The businessman flew over New Mexico in the United States in the vehicle that his company had developed over 17 years.
He said the trip was an “experience of a lifetime” for him. Branson has returned safely to Earth with his crew.
Thus, Branson becomes the first tourist to reach outer space, surpassing American businessman Elon Musk, owner of Tesla, and Jeff Beerus, owner of Amazon.
Branson’s height has not yet been revealed, but it appears to be 85 kilometres.
Branson was accompanied on the flight by pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci, and three employees: Beth Moses, Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla.
It is expected that Branson will start marketing similar flights to those wishing, starting next year.
600 people paid in advance to book the trip, which will cost a quarter of a million dollars.
During the trip, these people will see the sky turn black and enjoy the view of the horizon as they move away from the earth.
They will shave for five minutes in the weightlessness zone.
The journey to get Branson to this point was a long one, he announced his intention to build a space plane in 2004, and I think he could start commercial service by 2007.
But technical difficulties, including a fatal crash during the 2014 development journey, made the project one of Branson’s toughest.
“I’ve wanted to go into space since I was a kid, and I hope hundreds of thousands of people can get into space in the next 100 years,” he told the BBC on Sunday.
“Why don’t they go there? Space is extraordinary, the universe is wonderful. I want people to look at our beautiful Earth from above, work hard to make it magical and take care of it,” Branson asked.
There has been a renewed interest in space tourism after decades of hiatus and competition.
Seven wealthy people had paid sums at the beginning of the current century to visit outer space, but this adventure, which was supervised by the Russian Space Agency, stopped in 2009.
There are now new initiatives, as there are projects overseen by Jeff Bezos, founder of Amazon, and Elon Musk, founder of the electric car company Tesla.
Sir Richard received a letter of encouragement from Bezos on Saturday, despite the rivalry between the two.
Bezos’s “Blue Origin” company had tweeted on Twitter saying that whoever flies aboard the Sir Richard rocket will bear an eternal stigma because the missile will not reach the internationally recognized height to start outer space, at an altitude of 100 km.
The US government has defined the boundaries of outer space as 80 kilometers. Before Sunday, only 580 people had managed to fly above this height.
Sir Richard set off on the Unity spacecraft, which cannot reach the speed and altitude needed to keep it in space to orbit the Earth.
The vehicle is designed to give passengers on board a stunning view, when it reaches the maximum height, and allows them to live the experience of weightlessness for a few minutes.