A Virgin Galactic spaceship carrying Richard Branson has safely touched down after soaring to the edge of space on Sunday in a voyage the British billionaire called an “experience of a lifetime”.
The VSS Unity vessel reached a peak altitude of about 85km (53 miles), beyond the boundary of space according to the United States, allowing the passengers to experience weightlessness and admire the Earth’s curvature.
“Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard hard work to get us this far,” Branson said during a live feed, as the spaceship glided back to Spaceport America in New Mexico.
Touchdown occurred about 9:40am local time (15:40 GMT), about an hour after takeoff.
Sunday’s launch of the VSS Unity passenger rocket plane marked the company’s 22nd test flight of its SpaceShipTwo system and its fourth crewed mission beyond Earth’s atmosphere. It was also the first to carry a full complement of space travellers – two pilots and four “mission specialists” – Branson among them.
A week away from his 71st birthday, Branson and his crewmates walked onto the tarmac waving to a throng of onlookers before boarding the Unity rocket plane parked at the end of a taxiway. A video posted by Virgin Galactic showed Branson arriving earlier at the takeoff site on his bicycle and greeting crewmates with a hug.
— Richard Branson (@richardbranson) July 11, 2021
Space analyst Leo Enright told Al Jazeera the flight “could not have gone any smoother” and would give “an enormous boost of public confidence” to Branson’s space enterprise.
An earlier prototype of the Virgin Galactic rocket plane crashed during a test flight over California’s Mojave Desert in 2014, killing one pilot and seriously injuring another.
“The next big thing maybe is an announcement that they are opening up yet again tickets sales for his spaceplane,” Enright said.
“They closed them down after the tragic loss of a vehicle and the death of a crew member back in 2014, so there is every possibility that later today Branson will announce that he’s opening it up again and it’ll be interesting to see how many tickets he is willing to sell.”
A festive gathering of space industry executives, future customers and other well-wishers were on hand to witness Sunday’s launch, which was live-streamed in a presentation hosted by late-night television comedian Stephen Colbert.
Among those present was fellow billionaire and space industry pioneer Elon Musk, who is the founder of electric carmaker Tesla Inc.
The gleaming white spaceplane was carried aloft attached to the underside of the dual-fuselage jet VMS Eve (named for Branson’s late mother) in a takeoff from Spaceport America, a state-owned facility near the aptly named town of Truth or Consequences. Virgin Galactic leases a large section of the 18,000-acre site.
Reaching its high-altitude launch point at about 46,000 feet, Unity was released from the mothership and fell away as its crew ignited the vehicle’s rocket, sending it streaking straight upward at supersonic speed to the blackness of space some 53 miles (85.9 km) high.
At the apex of the climb with the rocket shut down, the crew then experienced a few minutes of microgravity, before the spaceplane shifted into re-entry mode, and began a gliding descent to a runway back at the spaceport. The entire flight, from takeoff to landing, lasted about an hour.
“This is the highlight of the ride to get a view of the curving Earth and to spend a few minutes in weightlessness, get out of your seats, and do a roll which apparently they [did] so this is a big moment,” Alan Boyle, contributing editor at GeekWire, told Al Jazeera.
“It’s pretty thrilling and the view is fantastic, you can see … the slight curve of the Earth and the black sky of space above, and that’s what people are going to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to see, and then they have to quickly get back onto their seats.. and experience a few Gs of acceleration on the way down,” Boyle added.
Al Jazeera’s Rob Reynolds, reporting from Sierra County, New Mexico said the operation was carried out “flawlessly”.
“Everything went flawlessly from the take-off of the mother ship Eve with unity strapped to its fuselage to the separation, which is always a very tricky part in this kind of an operation, technically tricky, and then the firing of the rockets … and then the plane came gliding in for a perfect landing.”
Virgin has said it plans at least two further test flights of the spaceplane in the months ahead before beginning regular commercial operation in 2022.
This is no discount travel service. But demand is apparently strong, with several hundred wealthy would-be citizen astronauts already having booked reservations, priced at about $250,000 per ticket.
The Swiss-based investment bank UBS has estimated the potential value of the space tourism market reaching $3bn annually by 2030.
Proving rocket travel safe for the public is key, given the inherent dangers of spaceflight.
Key COVID-19 numbers in the Ottawa area today – CBC.ca
- Ottawa reports three more COVID-19 cases Tuesday.
- No local health authority reports a COVID-19 hospital patient.
- A new outbreak makes up most new cases in the Belleville area.
Today’s Ottawa update
Ottawa Public Health (OPH) reported three more COVID-19 cases Tuesday and no new deaths. It removed two cases from its total, as it’s been doing from time to time as it double-checks its database (often due to residents living in other regions).
There are 42 known active cases in the capital.
Its medical officer of health said last week getting vaccinated and following familiar rules such as masking and distancing can stop COVID-19 from taking hold again.
Numbers to watch
4: The weekly incidence rate, a rolling seven-day total of new COVID-19 cases expressed per 100,000 residents.
0: The number of Ottawa residents being treated for COVID-19 in an Ottawa hospital.
0: The number of COVID-19 patients reported by each of the Ottawa-Gatineau area’s seven health authorities as of noon ET Tuesday. Two of them have yet to report their long weekend numbers.
1.16: The number of people infected by a single COVID-19 case, or R(t). A number under one is a sign the spread is slowing.
0: The number of active COVID-19 outbreaks in Ottawa.
Across the region
There are currently fewer than 100 known active cases in eastern Ontario and western Quebec.
Most local health units are generally reporting an average of a new case or two per day and, in eastern Ontario, have met the province’s fully vaccinated threshold for the next reopening step.
Hastings Prince Edward Public Health reported eight more cases Tuesday in its first update since Friday, six of them linked to an outbreak in Frankford, north of Trenton.
The health unit for the Renfrew County area reported six more cases over the long weekend and in the Kingston area, four more cases.
Ontario is currently under Step 3 of the province’s pandemic reopening plan. All of Quebec is under green zone rules.
Blizzard's President Brack Steps Down – Dark Horizons
J. Allen Brack, president of “Warcraft” and “Overwatch” creator Blizzard Entertainment, is leaving the company “to pursue new opportunities”.
Brack’s exit comes less than two weeks after Activision Blizzard was sued by the California Department of Fair Employment and Housing over the company’s alleged “pervasive frat boy workplace culture.”
In recent days, multiple horrific stories have emerged in the press of explosive allegations by employees who claimed to have been continuously subjected to sexual harassment, psychological harassment and discrimination within the company. A large crowd of more than a thousand employees rallied outside the company’s campus this past week, the incident making headline news around the world.
Brack was named in the lawsuit as being among the company executives who were allegedly aware of the systemic misconduct.
EVP of development Jen Oneal and EVP of platform and technology Mike Ybarra have now been appointed co-leaders of Blizzard. Oneal joined Blizzard in January, Ybarra came onboard from XBOX in 2019. Both have more than three decades of gaming industry experience between them.
A short statement released by the company’s COO Daniel Alegre says: “Both leaders are deeply committed to all of our employees; to the work ahead to ensure Blizzard is the safest, most welcoming workplace possible for women, and people of any gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, or background; to upholding and reinforcing our values; and to rebuilding your trust.”
Ontario reports single new COVID-19 case in Ottawa Tuesday – CTV Edmonton
Public Health Ontario is reporting a single new case of COVID-19 in Ottawa Tuesday.
A full, local snapshot from Ottawa Public Health is due this afternoon. Daily case counts from OPH often differ from those provided by Public Health Ontario because the two health agencies pull data for their respective daily snapshot reports at different times of the day.
Across the province, Public Health Ontario added 164 new infections on Tuesday and said one more Ontarian had died due to COVID-19. Another 151 cases are now considered resolved.
There was no formal update on the holiday Monday, but the province released the figures Tuesday, reporting an additional 168 new cases and another new death.
Across eastern Ontario, provincial health officials added five additional cases in the last two days.
COVID-19 VACCINES IN OTTAWA
Ottawa Public Health updates vaccine numbers on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. As of Monday:
- Ottawa residents with 1 dose (12+): 767,352
- Ottawa residents with 2 doses (12+): 661,965
- Share of population 12 and older with at least one dose: 83 per cent
- Share of population 12 and older fully vaccinated: 72 per cent
- Total doses received in Ottawa*: 1,333,790
**Total doses received does not include doses shipped to pharmacies and primary care clinics, but statistics on Ottawa residents with one or two doses includes anyone with an Ottawa postal code who was vaccinated anywhere in Ontario.
CASES OF COVID-19 AROUND THE REGION
- Eastern Ontario Health Unit: One new case Monday, zero new cases Tuesday
- Hastings Prince Edward Public Health: Zero new cases Monday, two new cases Tuesday
- Kingston, Frontenac, Lennox & Addington Public Health: One new case Monday, zero new cases Tuesday
- Leeds, Grenville & Lanark District Health Unit: Zero new cases Monday, one new case Tuesday
- Renfrew County and District Health Unit: Zero new cases Monday and Tuesday
This story will be updated. CTV News Ottawa will have the latest as it becomes available.
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