'I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid' Richard Branson hails space flight

Sir Richard Branson hailed it the “experience of a lifetime” after flying to the edge of space aboard the spacecraft VSS Unity.

Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson carries crew member Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space
Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson carries crew member Sirisha Bandla on his shoulders while celebrating their flight to space

The British billionaire, 70, has also won the ultimate race to kick off the new multibillion pound private space-tourism industry aboard Virgin Galactic’s first fully-crewed flight.

On his return from the mission which was guided by Scottish chief pilot David Mackay, Sir Richard was given a hero’s welcome and was greeted with cheers and hugs as walked back to the Spaceport America launch site in New Mexico, in the US.

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Speaking at a press conference he said: “Like most kids I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid but honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space.

“The whole thing was just magical."

He also paid tribute to scientist Stephen Hawking who he said it was an “honour” to know.

The entrepreneur arrived at the launch site calling himself ‘astronaut 001’, also praised the ‘hard, hard work’ which had gone into the flight.

The mission had been hailed as a “landmark moment” for the entire commercial space industry. Michael Colglazier, the company’s chief executive, also said it was the first step to ‘opening up space travel to all.’

Mr Mackay, 64, who grew up in Helmsdale in Sutherland, took off from the Spaceport America runway with Branson, two pilots and three mission specialists on board, amid worldwide fanfare.

Mr Mackay, who studied aeronautical engineering at the University of Glasgow, before serving in the RAF for 16 years before moving to Virgin Atlantic and Virgin Galactic, also expressed his desire that commercial space flights should become available for everyone.

“We are confident that the vast majority of the population of the Earth are capable of going on this space flight,” he said.

Years earlier Mr Mackay had feared he would never achieve his ambition of becoming an astronaut due to the lack of a UK space programme.

“Never give up your dreams, you just never know what might happen in life,” he said.

Mr Mackay took a copy of the Ladybird book ‘Exploring Space’ which he won for good attendance at Sunday school in Helmsdale on the spacecraft’s test mission in February 2019. Other items included a Saltire and a scrap of Mackay tartan.

Video streamed live showed the Virgin Galactic in the air at about 3.45pm UK time on Sunday afternoon and the aircraft reached 40,000 feet by 4pm.

Sir Richard was seen smiling as he headed back to Earth’s surface after experiencing several minutes of weightlessness.

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

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

There is some disagreement on whether Branson and his crew are officially astronauts with no official agreement on where exactly Earth’s atmosphere stops.

NASA says 50 miles point above Earth is where an astronaut earns his or her wings but international space treaties use the 100 mile definition

Over 600 people, including Justin Bieber, Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio have booked flights costing 250,000 dollars (£180,000). Another 1,000 people from 58 countries have put down deposits.

Virgin Galactic is expected to carry out several more test flights before offering commercial flights.

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