Richard Branson Returns To Passenger Space Travel Race With New Craft

MOJAVE, Calif., Feb 19 (Reuters) - Richard Branson‘s Virgin Galactic venture unveiled a new passenger spacecraft on Friday, nearly 16 months after a fatal accident destroyed its sister ship during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert.

The rollout of the gleaming craft, dubbed Virgin Space Ship Unity, marks Branson‘s return to a race among rival billionaire entrepreneurs to develop a vehicle that can take thrill-seekers, researchers and commercial customers on short hops into space.

“It’s almost too good to be true,” Branson said during a ceremony at the Mojave Air and Space Port, about 100 miles (160 km) north of Los Angeles. “When I saw it for the first time, it brought an immediate lump to my throat and tears to my eyes. It was a completely overwhelming moment.”

Christened with a bottle of milk by Branson‘s year-old granddaughter, the ship was painted bright white on its front section, fading to gray and black toward the tail.

The tail itself was emblazoned with a blue image of a peering eye belonging to famed British physicist Stephen Hawking.

Branson has already offered a flight into space to Hawking, who is confined to a wheelchair and suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or ALS. It was Hawking who suggested naming the ship Unity.

“I have always dreamed of spaceflight, but for so many years I thought it was just that – a dream,” Hawking said in a recorded message played at the space port. “If I am able to go, and if Richardwill still take me, I will be proud to fly on this spaceship.”

From outward appearances, the spacecraft is nearly identical to the one lost on Oct. 31, 2014. The accident was blamed on pilot error and oversights by Northrop Gumman Corp’s Scaled Composites division, which designed, built and tested the vehicle, known —> Read More

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail