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By Minyvonne Burke
Video shot from Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity as it soared towards the edge of space during its successful test mission Thursday shows a stunning view of the Earth from space — and the company’s founder Richard Branson overcome with emotion.
In it, VSS Unity, also known as SpaceShipTwo, flies high above the ground before its rocket motors are ignited, pushing the craft upward. As a large crowd cheers from the ground at Mojave Air and Space Port in California, Branson covers his face with his hands and appears to cry.
“Many of us cried tears of joy when we reached space, and the air really was filled with love as we celebrated the milestone flight,” Branson said in a blog post following the mission.
“I’m so proud of the Virgin family every day, but today I am prouder than ever,” he added.
VSS Unity reached an altitude of 271,268 feet (51.4 miles) during Thursday’s flight, past the 50-mile mark the government uses to define the edge of space. It was the first time out of the craft’s four test flights that it was able to reach space.
It’s also the first vehicle built for commercial use and piloted by humans to reach space, according to Branson.
Euphoria wasn’t the only emotion flowing through the crowd Thursday. Love was also in the air.
Following the flight, an engineer with Virgin Galactic’s aerospace-system manufacturing organization dropped to one knee to propose to his girlfriend.
“What better way to propose than with a ring that had just flown to space? Huge congratulations to the happy couple,” Branson wrote in his blog.
The next goal for Virgin Galactic is to fill VSS Unity with paying customers eager to catch a glimpse of the Earth from space. So far, about 800 people have paid $250,000 each for tickets.