The Truth About Richard Branson's Trip To Space

British billionaire Sir Richard Branson never backs down from a challenge. In 1986, he set a record for the fastest boat to cross the Atlantic and, in 1987, he crossed the same ocean in a hot air balloon (via The Guardian). On July 11, the 70-year-old became Astronaut 001 and the second oldest man in space thanks to a trip aboard Virgin Galactic. The Times said American astronaut John Glenn took part in a Space Shuttle mission when he was 77.

Bad weather kept the excited crew earthbound for several hours. While the SpaceShipTwo Unity was originally meant to take off at 9 a.m. EDT, it eventually lifted off at just after 10:30 a.m. EDT. The journey took the crew of four and two pilots into the 50-mile altitude limit considered to be the "edge of space" by the Federal Aviation Authority, before coming back down to Earth once again (via The Washington Post). The whole journey took just over an hour (via Virgin Galactic).

Sunday's journey was the culmination of a lifelong dream for Branson, who first registered the name "Virgin Galactic Airways" in 2004. The British billionaire told NPR that it had always been his dream to travel to space. "I was a kid once, standing with my dad and my sister, looking up at the moon, being told that [astronauts] Buzz [Aldrin] and Neil [Armstrong] were standing on it. And I just thought, I've got to go to space one day."

Virgin Galactic had its share of problems

Of course, Sir Richard Branson's program was not without its problems. One of its earliest prototypes crashed in the Mojave Desert back in 2014, resulting in the death of one pilot and serious injury of another. Branson told NPR the aftermath of that crash was spent trying to decide if the program was viable. "You know, at the time, you know, we had to decide. Do we press on or don't we? I sat down with 800 engineers. Because we could rectify that particular issue, we pressed on," he said. 

Five years after that, the company nearly experienced another setback after one piece of equipment was not installed properly, and it triggered a malfunction by trapping air inside a stabilizer near its tail. The New York Times said the pressure damaged a seal in that section of the craft.

Branson's success has made the possibility of commercial space travel a reality. And while it might be a while before everyone can afford a ticket (bookings are currently going for $250,000 a pop), the British businessman said it will only be a matter of time before prices can come down, making it possible for anyone to make the quick hop to the edges of space before coming back down to Earth again. As Branson put it to NPR, "One of the things that excites me the most is the fact that Virgin Galactic can be an inspiration to a whole generation of kids to do something incredible in their lives."