Remember six years ago when Richard Branson unveiled his plans to make Virgin the first commercial airline in outer space? We all kind of laughed, thinking he was crazy like Ryanair’s CEO Michael O’Leary, who wanted his flight attendants to double as co-pilots. Anyway, Branson made us all look like idiots yesterday—10/10/10—as one of his aircraft left our hemisphere—sorta and briefly.
The VSS Enterprise was released from its mothership, WhiteKnightTwo, at an altitude of 45,000 feet, just on the edge of space. It didn’t exactly hit zero-gravity, but flew in glide mode for about 15 minutes before touching down safely on land. Both planes were manned by pilots. It was a test-run, aiming basically to achieve a clean release from the mothership, and for the pilots to free fly, glide, and land.
Why is realizing the geeky fantasies of an eccentric billionaire important to the travel industry? VSS Enterprise is a commercial ship, meaning that the 370 customers who put down deposits of $200,000 each back in 2004 will most likely see their dreams of going into space become a reality. Save your Sigourney Weaver jokes: this is kind of a big deal. Set your DVRs for next Monday, when National Geographic Channel premieres an exclusive documentary on Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic’s mission.