Richard Branson launches into space

TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, N.M. — British billionaire Sir Richard Branson was launched into space Sunday.

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Branson and a crew that included two pilots and three mission specialists boarded Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity which will be carried to an altitude of 8 miles by WhiteKnightTwo, a sleek, twin-fuselage jet, before it detaches and the rocket-propelled craft flies 55 miles to the fringes of the atmosphere.

“The name’s Branson. Sir Richard Branson. Astronaut Double-oh one. License to thrill,” Branson joked before boarding.

Branson and the crew will experience weightlessness for a few minutes before returning to Earth with a runway landing.

“It’s a beautiful day to go to space,” Branson said on social media.

The flight is intended to boost confidence for Branson’s space tourism company. Branson was not supposed to fly until later in the summer but changed his plans after Jeff Bezos announced he planned to take his own rocket ship to space July 20.

Virgin Galactic has already booked 600 reservations. Bezo’s Blue Origin has not yet opened ticket sales or announced prices.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.