NASA Administrator Bill Nelson on Monday hailed Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson after he traveled to the edge of space as a passenger on his company’s VSS Unity craft.
“We put up Alan Shepard and Gus Grissom into suborbit 60 years ago, and now we’ve come to this, and I think it’s great,” Nelson, who went to space in the 1980s, said in an interview on CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
Branson’s flight was nearly two decades in the making after the billionaire businessman started his space tourism firm in 2004. VSS Unity on Sunday reached reached an altitude of 86.1 kilometers, which is equivalent to 53.5 miles or about 282,000 feet. It took off from Spaceport America in New Mexico and later landed back at the facility.
Branson’s flight made him the first of the billionaire space company creators to fly on his own spacecraft, ahead of Jeff Bezos, who started Blue Origin, and Elon Musk, who founded SpaceX.
Bezos, the founder and executive chair of Amazon, is scheduled to travel to space a week from Tuesday on Blue Origin’s New Shepard rocket.
Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are direct rivals, competing in an area called suborbital space tourism. SpaceX flies longer trips into orbit and has carried astronauts to the International Space Station.