In a follow-up press conference, he said he was “still in space” and struggled to describe his experience, at one point breaking off from another topic to shout: “Woo! We’ve been to space, everybody!”
He promised to devote the rest of his life to saving the planet, saying that seeing Earth from high above would motivate future customers to do the same. He added that this might be his last adventure after a history of alarming his family with daredevil attempts to cross the Atlantic and Pacific in boats and balloons.
However, he also admitted that he had written down “thirty or forty” nitpicks and niggles that could be better about Virgin’s tourist experience.
‘Welcome to space, Unity 22’
Starting at 4am local time, about 500 people gathered at a spaceport near the town of Truth or Consequences to see the launch. Camera crews and staff bustled as a master of ceremonies tried to hype up the crowd, creating an atmosphere more reminiscent of a cruise ship disco than a grave scientific milestone.
The mothership, named Eve after Sir Richard’s mother, took off quietly and without much ceremony, save for silence from the crowd as it accelerated and cheers when it left the ground.
But when Unity detached from Eve and began its rocket burn, it was easily visible from the ground as a sudden streak of white smoke climbing rapidly into the deep sky.
“Welcome to space, Unity 22!” declared Virgin’s announcer, referring to the mission’s callsign. Sir Richard attempted to address the crowd from the vehicle, but the audio link broke.
Then Unity’s “feathering” stage – in which its twin tails swing upwards from the craft’s body at a 60 degree angle to create drag and help it drift down to Earth – deployed safely, avoiding a replay of the 2014 accident that tore its sister ship Enterprise into pieces and killed the co-pilot.