Elon Musk visited fellow space-baron billionaire Richard Branson at home on the morning of Branson’s historic flight to the edge of the cosmos.
The Virgin Group tycoon flew about 55 miles high — just skimming the edge of space — aboard a SpaceShipTwo rocket plane on Sunday morning. It was Virgin Galactic’s first flight with a full crew, and it has positioned the company to fly its first paying tourists to the edge of space next year.
Ultimately, Branson has said, the company’s aim is to make spaceflight accessible to everyone.
Musk founded the rocket company SpaceX with a different goal: reaching and populating Mars. But he still showed support for Branson’s cause. Two hours before lifting off, Branson shared a photo on Twitter of himself in the kitchen with a barefoot Musk.
“Great to start the morning with a friend,” he wrote.
The SpaceX founder visited Virgin Galactic’s launch facilities in New Mexico to watch the flight. He was later photographed with the CEO of Virgin Orbit, Branson’s other spaceflight company.
In a press conference after the flight, Branson specified that it was quite early in the morning: 3 am
“It was great this morning to find Elon Musk in my kitchen at three o’clock, to come to wish us the best,” he said.
“I’d already been to bed and he still hadn’t gone to bed,” Branson added with a laugh. “He’s an all-nighter and our time clocks are completely different. But so nice of him to come all this way to wish us well.”
Just a few hours later Branson lifted off, ferried by two pilots and accompanied by three other Virgin Galactic employees standing in as passengers. Along with Branson, these “mission specialists” were Beth Moses, the company’s chief astronaut instructor; Colin Bennett, its lead operations engineer; and Sirisha Bandla, the vice president of government affairs and research.
A double-bodied “mothership” plane carried their spaceship nearly 10 miles above sea level, then dropped it into the open air. The pilots fired the SpaceShipTwo engines immediately, pointed upwards, and screamed towards space, climbing another 45 miles in just about two minutes.
Branson and his crewmates spent just about five minutes floating around the space plane’s cabin and gazing at the Earth below before gravity began to pull them back down. The space plane fell back through Earth’s atmosphere, then extended its wings to glide to a runway landing.
“Congratulations, beautiful flight!” Musk tweeted shortly after touchdown.