Richard Branson, head of the Virgin group, said this week that he plans to travel to space this summer aboard his own Virgin Galactic spaceship.
“My wish is to go up on the 50th anniversary of the moon landing — that’s what we’re working on,” he told the news agency AFP during an event to honor two Virgin Galactic pilots in Washington, D.C. The American Apollo 11 mission landed on the moon on July 20, 1969.
Branson has said previously that he hoped to start flying passengers to the edge of space and back by this year from Spaceport America in southern New Mexico.
The two pilots, Mark “Forger” Stucky and C.J. Sturkow, were awarded “commercial astronaut wings” on Thursday by the Federal Aviation Administration for hitting an altitude of 51.4 miles in a test flight over the Mojave desert in December.
Speaking at the event, Branson called the flight “a moment of historical significance, a moment of inspiration and of optimism for the future.” He added that after years of trying, “We are finally at the dawn of a new age of space exploration.”
Branson has said that after the flight, he shed tears of joy as well as relief that his pilots landed safely.
“Test flights have always got a risk element. It’s the most difficult time for a space line,” Branson said an interview with The Washington Post. As for Stucky and Sturckow, he said: “They were incredibly brave.”
During a similar test flight in 2014, a Virgin Galactic spacecraft came apart mid-flight, killing the pilot, in an accident that led to a federal investigation and set the program back years.