Billionaire Branson prepares for flight to edge of space

VIRGIN GALACTIC FOUNDER RICHARD BRANSON: "When we land, I'll celebrate with family, friends, grandchildren, children, and a great, great grin on my face."

Mega-rich daredevil mogul Richard Branson is set to become the first of the three billionaire CEOs in the space tourism race to leave Earth's atmosphere on Sunday, when his Virgin Galactic passenger rocket is scheduled to launch him and five others to the final frontier.

BRANSON: "I've been looking forward to this for 17 years."

Branson will join two pilots and three “mission specialists" aboard VSS Unity for his company's first fully crewed test flight, which is expected to land 90 minutes after takeoff.

The Virgin Galactic carrier jet VMS Eve, named for Branson's mother, will lift the British billionaire founder and crew to an altitude of 50,000 feet, before Unity is released and climbs even higher to roughly 55 miles above the New Mexico Desert, where the crew will experience about 4 minutes of weightlessness before beginning a gliding descent back to Earth.

The spaceplane will then land on a runway, as opposed to a space capsule that returns to Earth's surface by parachute.

If successful, Sunday's test will give Branson bragging rights for edging out Jeff Bezos, who is scheduled to visit the edge of space aboard his Blue Origin rocket ship on July 20, with his brother in tow.

BRANSON: "It's honestly not a race. It's a race to - if it's a race, it's a race to produce wonderful spaceships that can make many more people be able to access space and I think that's both of our aim."

Fellow billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk is also vying to usher in a new era of astro-tourism with his SpaceX, but he does not yet have a flight for himself on the books.

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