Sir Richard Branson’s space tourism flight is a landmark moment – but out of reach for most people

There was at least one Englishman with something to celebrate on Sunday night.

It will go down in the life story of Sir Richard Branson as the day he was officially handed the title of astronaut after his successful trip to the edge of space and back.

And if the live feed of the England game 5,000 miles away put a dampener on the day for some, Sir Richard’s emotions were sky high at the achievement of him and his crew.

The 22nd Virgin Galactic test flight was the first to carry a full payload of passengers, all of them senior employees, and was a key moment in selling the idea of space tourism to the widest possible audience.

It was also meant to reassure the hundreds who have already stumped up a quarter of a million each to secure a seat in the future that it could be done. Many have been waiting a long time for the ride.

The likelihood is now that early in the new year Virgin will begin taking paying passengers up to the edge of space and give them the chance to experience what Sir Richard did.

“Indescribably good” was the only way the billionaire astronaut could relate the views and the sensation of weightlessness 50 miles above the earth’s surface.

The excitement at a safe and successful mission was certainly infectious and this was undoubtedly a landmark moment in the private space race.

SpaceX boss Elon Musk was there to witness history – Sir Richard said he stumbled upon his rival in his kitchen at 3am – and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos sent his congratulations.

They, and a number of other companies, will take encouragement, Sir Richard told me, from the success of this mission. They all believe there are enough paying passengers to go around.

But, even with the raffle Sir Richard announced for ordinary people to possibly win a seat on a future flight, for most people on the planet the prospect is financially well out of reach.

After landing, Sir Richard talked about future astronauts not being limited by their gender, race or background but truthfully that day seems a long way off.

Perhaps some of the students who were there to witness the event will see it happen in their lifetime but it will take a huge upscaling of capabilities. Sir Richard had teased the children with the story of almost bringing an alien home.

For such a consummate showman, a man who has dressed as a bride for a PR stunt and, by his own estimate, survived 76 near-death experiences in his lifetime, there can have been little in his 70 years as satisfying as Sunday’s silky smooth performance.

If his granddaughter’s proud announcement that “papa went to the moon” was a little off-beam, you can forgive the family’s euphoria.

And at least one member of the family definitely won’t be following him into space. “My wife Joan is about the only person in the world who doesn’t want to go,” he told me.

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