TRUTH OR CONSEQUENCES, New Mexico: British billionaire Richard Branson will make history on Sunday as he becomes the first owner of a private space company, Virgin Galactic, to fly into space.
Plans call for the VSS Unity spaceship to lift off after 9 a.m. EDT from New Mexico's Spaceport America, located some 170 miles south of Albuquerque.
VMS Eve, an airplane, will carry the spaceship to a height of 9 miles under its 140-foot wingspan. Unity will then detach from the plane and ignite its rocket engine to travel to the edge of space, according to the company.
After 10 minutes, which will include several minutes of weightlessness, Unity will make its way back to the spaceport under its own power. The flight will last about 90 minutes.
Aboard the ship will be Branson, 70, along with two pilots and three other Virgin Galactic employees. The company said the staff will be testing the passenger experience, as the company will offer seats to paying customers within one year.
"I'll be evaluating the customer spaceflight experience," Branson said in a video posted on Twitter. "As the Virgin Galactic founder, I am so proud to have this remarkable crew ... by my side as we fly to space. This July, our dream will become a reality."
The flight will allow those onboard to view Earth from outer space, as well as the blackness of space.
"The first exciting moment of the flight will be the release from the plane, when you will briefly become weightless even before you reach space," Richard Garriott, a tech businessman who flew into space in 2008, said in an interview, as reported by United Press International.
"Passengers on a Virgin Galactic flight will experience up to 3 Gs, so that is still considerable and will be quite a thrill," Garriott said.
The Virgin spaceship will climb to 55 miles above Earth. The 50-mile mark is considered to define the beginning of space.