tv The Cross Connection With Tiffany Cross MSNBC July 11, 2021 7:00am-9:00am PDT
it was back in 2004 that branson entered the burgeoning field of space entrepreneurship which has been driven largely by the wealthy. branson has charted a very different trajectory of that from fellow space fellows jeff base owe and elon musk. he delivered a satellite pay load into orbit last month. joining us from galactic space port in new mexico is correspondent tom costello. tom, last thing we heard this thing is still a go for sometime this hour. what are you hearing and seeing on the ground? >> reporter: just checked a mina go. still on for 8:30 mountain time, 10:30 eastern time, 7:30 pacific. can i just set the scene here for you? this is quintessential richard branson. this is quintessential virgin. we have classic rock playing,
guns n' roses. i heard the eagles earlier. this is kind of the branson theme, if you will. right, the music of his life and his generation. this space port america is such an impressive facility. i had the opportunity to tour it earlier in the week. it is a massive space port. it's like -- really it's like an airport terminal designed only for space flights and commercial space flights. there are no hotel rooms inside. it's multiple levels of open meeting space, and there's a great coffee bar and a great place to have a dinner or a lunch. it is designed for the people who are going to be flying on these flights. so you and me, you and i, rather, if we visit and we're just tourists, chances are we're not going to be able to pony up to the coffee bar, right. but if you dish out a quarter million dollars or more, then you probably can get a great espresso here on the ground in new mexico. the facility, a two-mile runway here, right out in the new mexico desert that the state of
new mexico spent a quarter of a billion dollars building this entire facility. there was nothing out here. they had to run sewage lines and electricity lines and water, as i understand it, they had to go into the wells underneath the ground because they believe this is the future. and so right now out there on the runway here, we have the "unity" space ship. it's right now mated to the mother ship "eve." and i mentioned in the last half hour it's named after richard branson's mother. by the way, she was 96 years old. she just died of covid in january. so he named the ship after her, and she was such an important part of his life. let's also talk about the fact that richard branson not only being the entrepreneur you discuss. he has been a dare devil and really an adventurer his whole life. and by his own counts, he has escaped death or very close calls 75 times over this guy's life. let's not in any way diminish the fact this is still a test
flight, a passenger test flight, but a test flight. and the ship has been redesigned, safety enhancements since we had a tragic accident in 2014 in which a test pilot was killed. he was killed because they deployed that feather wing system that you discussed earlier, they deployed it too early and literally the entire aircraft came apart. so they are very, very conscious of how critical it is that they do all of this right on time, right on the money. i talked to the chief pilot multiple times dave mckay, an rif pilot from scotland. he said they are confident now this is a safe vehicle -- they have to prove it to the public because people are going to pay a lot of money to ride it, ali. >> let's talk about the folks that are going to be on the craft. you talked about david kay, he was virgin galactic's chief pilot. he was pilot for virgin atlantic
before he joined virgin galactic. he's the guy on the left. michael, they call him such, on the right, he joined virgin galactic in 2014. he's flown different types of airplane. the four in the middle, you see richard branson there. but the three others, you have the vice-president of governmental affairs and research -- sorry, she is, research operations at virgin galactic. she's going to be dealing with the human tended research experiments, university of florida is involved in that, requires handling fixation tubes that are going to be activated at various points during the flight. there is experimental work being done. she's the one standing between richard branson and michael masucci. evaluating cabinet equipment procedures and the boost phase. i'll ask you about that, tom, in
a second. you have beth moses right in the middle, the chief astronaut instructor at virgin galactic. she's going to be the lead test director in space. she's overseeing the safe execution of the test flight objectives here. as you mentioned, this is a test flight. this is still a test flight. this is not open to everybody. everybody on this flight has a reason for being there. >> reporter: that's absolutely right. and let's talk about -- you talked about when you get the boost, if you will. so, they climb to 50,000 feet. they drop. they light the rocket. and then as they accelerate, they're pulling 3 1/2 gs. they accelerate to 2300 miles per hour. that's mach iii. this is a hybrid motor that has been created specifically for this rocket. it's a solid and liquid propellant. we're talking 3 to 4 minutes of weightlessness. they have 17 windows up there. interestingly, we talked about these kind of, i don't know,
semi-nasty comments from the blue origin team saying, we have bigger windows. we go higher. so maybe branson isn't really going into space. okay, fine. but if you're up there and you've got a fantastic view of the earth and you've got 17 windows to look out of, most people would think that's a pretty great experience. in no way to diminish the experience from blue origin which as you know is a rocket. you have maybe a bigger space capsule. nonetheless, that's the back and forth going on here. and feathering the wings back when they reenter the atmosphere on the way down, they have to feather the wings so they can eventually deploy them and it lands like a normal glider aircraft on this massive air strip, landing way i mean to say in the new mexico desert. >> well, tom costello, you are as close as one gets to having been in space, but stand by because i'm going to now bring in a couple people who have actually been there to give us their perspective. dr. may jemison is joining me
now, a former nasa astronaut, the first woman of color to travel to space on the space shuttle endeavor. she's the author of "flying where the wind goes, moments of my life." also joining us leland melvin, former astronaut and author of "chasing grace." i'm honored to be with you on this historic day. dr. jamison, tell me what's going through your mind right now as you are watching the preparations for this liftoff. >> i'm actually very excited about what's happening. as i look at the preparations, i think about the amount of work that had to be done to actually get there and what people will experience. at the same time, i'm thinking about how we digest this as a society. is the digestion, one, do we think of this as access to space over a long period of time? that people, lots of people get
to be involved? or are we just marking this up as a number and we're not looking at how do we use it going forward. so, i'm pretty -- i'm very excited. reasons for being excited, it's a different way into space than the regular launch vehicles we're seeing. so that's really exciting. that it's actually launching from a new place, the space port, and they land in the same place on the same day. so all of those things are very exciting. and the up side of that, the reality check is what do we do with it, and who gets to be involved. >> and, leland, first of all, thank you for being in your complete kit there. it's always good to see you. you're one of the only people who wears an astronaut suit who is an astronaut. i think what may brings up is really, really, really important because space today to young 8-year-olds or 12-year-olds or 15-year-olds does seem like a competition for the rich and the famous.
how do we connect this? because one of the things that all of you astronauts tell me is when you go up there and you look back and you look to earth, things look different. the things we fight about on earth look different. the concerns about the climate and the world in which we live seem bigger. so how do we make sure that this doesn't get away from us and become just the playground for the rich? >> ali, thanks for inviting us back. i think the reason why i'll always wear my flight suit is because there may be this little boy or little girl out there from a diverse community that sees my face, sees may's face and says, wow, that can even be for me. so what may was talking about was the democratization of space. how do we get everyone from every zip code, every postal code, people who don't even have postal codes, how do we get them inspired to let them know they can be part of the space race, this new space race. i remember i was at the jet propulsion laboratory before i even flew in space.
i signed a picture to a little boy who was in middle school. and i was giving -- and fast forward, i was at a commencement speech and he walked up to me and said, that picture that you signed gave me the inspiration to get my ph.d. in aerospace engineering. so you just don't know who you're going to inspire, who you're going to motivate. he may even start his own, his own company and be competing with, you know, bezos and branson and the rest of the folks. but i think we have to let people see who is up there, who's been there and how they got there. you know, we know how to get to the nfl, to the nba, but no one knows really what are the paths to get to space. and i think that's the thing we have to do for everyone. so, it's an exciting day, as may said. this is going to be a moment for history -- the history books. but we're going to keep doing this to where everyone may have an opportunity to see this perspective that we get from the space station. we get from space. and it changes the way you think. it changes the way you feel
about humanity and people around you. >> i want to hit that hard, may. what is that path? that's what people are looking at, right? how do i get to space? how do i get into this exciting new way? may jamison, what do you have to say to people? i'm sure you get asked this all the time, right? you get asked to speak. people say how do i become like dr. may jamison? how do i become like leland melvin? >> i want to throw a different perspective on this, and that perspective is when i went up into space, yes, i looked back to earth and it was incredible. for me it was looking outward and that connection to the greater universe because i never believed the earth had lines and boundaries and borders. i always knew climate was affected. i always knew people had a lot more in common. so i think it is as impactful to look up right here and to be able to have people connected to the earth. the other piece i want to add with that is that very frequently people think of astronauts and, yes, the view is beautiful. yes, i want us to go into space.
but a lot of work is done by the people who don't go into space, and so that whole path and what we use space exploration for, whether it's remote sensing, whether it's being able to look and understand, you know, telecommunications, all of those things are important, and so sometimes i worry that we need to have the full picture. yes, you know, it's great and the orange flight suit picture, all of those things, and being a part of space exploration. but the space race, quote-unquote, that's being run right now is not only between billionaires, but it's also about how we use it. other countries are being involved, right. the chinese just last week sent up a full complement to their space station. so i think that even though we're looking at the commercialization of space, what's really impactful and
exciting now are how many people, how many countries, how many nations are being involved. south africa has a space program. there are space programs around the world. so when i look at it, i want to look at it in total. yes, the commercial piece is really exciting. the spare tourism piece is very exciting. but right now if we look at space tourism only, it's going to be for a long time somewhat not inclusive, right, because of the cost. but so much is going on in space that is more inclusive, and so i really -- even though we're looking here now at virgin galactic and i'm rooting for everybody and i want this to happen, i want us to be -- have a broader perspective. >> leland, let's talk about that, about people are looking at this earth that we're on and saying, it's fraught, it's
fraught politically. it's fraught environmentally. what is this engagement in space and doing these things? what does that do for us here on earth? >> ali, when i was in space, i remember -- i thought that the most impactful thing would be me installing this multi-billion dollar columbus laboratory made with the robotic arm, made by the u.s. space agency. i am assembling parts and pieces from different countries as a nasa astronaut. that would be my epiphany, my aha moment. i floated over to the russian segment with a bag of rehydrated vegetables and we had african-american, asian american, french, german, russian, the first female commander, we were all breaking bread at 17,500 miles per hour.
this is what blew my mind. we're working with people we used to fight against. i think this ability to go to space -- and as may said, not just to look back at the planet, but look out to the darkness and deepness of space and think, what else can we do? where else can we go? and these opportunities to get this perspective shift for all people. as we go around the planet every 90 minutes, we see everything down there. we see where everyone's living, where everyone's working. we see the lights at night, where it's the footprint of humanity. there may be fires in subsahara africa that we see that are lighting that shows there are people living there. so it connects us all. as long as we allow ourselves to let these kids explore, let these kids have access, opportunity, and once you in still that belief in them, they will rise and be that next entrepreneur, like bezos or branson or someone else. so it's so important that they
see that they can be just like anyone else. >> stand by. i want to go to tom costello. he's at the site of the virgin galactic space port which is 20 miles from truth or consequence, new mexico. it's a space port. you are standing at a place that must have been like the first time they built an airport and there were no planes to fly there. >> reporter: i mean, yeah. you know, it's like if there's a one-horse town, this is pretty much it, right, and the horse is, in fact, a future of space. let me just show you this. this speaks to how important this is for the entire state of new mexico because they have wrapped -- they are wrapping very much the identity of the state into the space program, at least for now. on one side is the space. on the other side it's all about new mexico. a quarter billion dollars, the state put in to build this space port here. and we are talking to somebody last night who said that just this event is probably going to bring half a million dollars in
hotel money and restaurant money into las cruces alone. las cruces is really the nearest town or city, i should say, second biggest city in new mexico that is really benefiting from this infusion of money. you can imagine if this thing continues to take off, and they build big hotels, for example, heliports going back and forth between cruces and here, this is going to mean a lot of money and a lot of jobs to people in new mexico. the state has a rich history as it relates to science. los alamo s, the missiles nearby, the aliens that landed in ros well, new mexico. they are very much embracing the future as it relates to richard branson and virgin galactic. >> tom, you will stand by for us because we are still on schedule for this launch. i want to bring nia butler craig in, an aerospace engineering
ph.d. student. she is someone who wants to be a mission specialist. we're going to be seeing, well, 3 1/2 mission specialists today. i don't know if we're counting richard branson as one, going into space, and she wants to contribute into deep space exploration. to somebody like you, nia, this is a big deal. >> absolutely, this is so exciting. not even on the new era we're embarking in for spacex exploration, it opens the doors for so many people who look like me and just allows global participation. but it's exciting to see that dreams are still being able to be realized in space exploration for people of all ages, so i'm so excited and looking forward to the future. >> what does your future look like? leland was talking a little earlier about the path to getting into space. how does that -- what does that look like you to? what are the milestones that you want to achieve look like? how important are things like today's launch to you? >> they're really important. one, just because i see that
it's possible. two, there are so many doors being opened. and i guess the path for me is in my ph.d. program, i'm looking to make myself as competitive as possible for the astronaut corp.s. and so when i'm finished with this ph.d. program, i look to apply and i look to continue to just contribute to space exploration as it pertains to go to space, as it pertains to building the vehicles, as it pertains to all the behind the scenes that dr. jamison was talking about because this is just the top of the pyramid. and so i'm just excited for the different opportunities that this type of exploration will bring to all types of people and all types of careers. >> may, let's talk about that. what do you want people to be thinking about when they watch this in the next few minutes, about not just people like me who are excited by it or who might be space geeks, but people for whom this, whatever this can become, could be a future? >> so,tion
>> so, i think people like space. the first thing we have to do is understand people like space. people look up at the stars, they wonder what's going on. what i'd like people to take away is what naia alluded to and leland alluded to. there are a lot of people involved with this. even though we're following the highlighted, the five people -- six people who are on board, there's more going on than that. all of the people who are making this happen. the and each one of them has an impact on this world. each one of them is part of the dream of the bigger future. and they're grown ups, they're adults now. so we have that within us. so i would like to look at it not just as a dream, but a reality check as to what we can do, that this can connect us, and that we have great opportunities ahead. and let's make sure that we use them. >> and, naia, that's a really
good point. for everybody who goes into space, there are literally thousands of people who don't go into space, but have to be better at their jobs, smarter, and be thinking literally outside the box, outside the atmosphere. this is literally outside the box thinking. >> absolutely. and their job is paramount to the safety of the astronauts, to the completion of the mission. and so no job is more important than the other. so it's so exciting to see people of all backgrounds engaged in space exploration because i believe that's where the unity comes from. and that's where the potential to just be better and do better comes from for humanity. >> what's the impact on the sciences, on people like you, on physicists, getting people -- not just people in general, because we need more people in sciences generally. but to may jemison's point, but getting a broader swath of
people into these things. what's the influence of space on that? >> well, we have to realize that the space program generates jobs. it generates new activity in the economy. a huge chunk of the world economy is now done in outer space. the internet, telecommunications, gps, all of it is done in outer space. we have to realize that's our future. our future means that there's going to be economic activity in outer space. jobs not just for astronauts, but jobs that require engineering skills, mathematical skills and, of course, a imagination to take you forward. and just remember that nasa used to be called the agency to nowhere. that is, for many a decade, it simply spun wheels around the earth, which is good. sent a few folks to mars. but the old nasa of the '60s was gone, now is coming back. so i think we're going to see a
new reinvigorated interest in this space program. not just for scientist, but for job seekers, for people who want to be part of the new economy. just remember that the new economy, much of it will be in outer space. >> i want to bring in somebody i've been talking to for awhile about. he is familiar with this space innovation, he's one of the people behind it. the founder and chairman of the x prize in 1994. he and his friends set out to develop the commercial space industry by putting out an incentivized prize to come up with a space ship that became ultimately space ship one. it was the first commercial space vessel to get out into space and be able to land and do it again. peter, this is a culmination of something you've been dreaming about since the moon mission. >> it is. it's the culmination of much of
the work of my life. ali, good morning. good to see you. when apollo happened in the late 60s into the early 70s, it's this expectation that, wow, we started, this is the beginning and we're not turning back. that it was, you know, a few brave men that would be followed by a few brave women, and then the public would go next. but that wasn't what happened. the apollo program ended in december of 1972, and after a hiatus of a decade, the space shuttle program went and it as well was only a government program. the realization was i wanted to go, and i think millions if not tens of millions of americans and people from around the world wanted to go, but it wasn't going to be an option. the government space programs were all very restrictive. they were all limiting just the right education, background.
if we want to go ahead, we'll build space ships for the rest of us. as you know, back in 1994, dear friend greg marinack gave me a copy of the spirit of st. louis. and i learned, in fact, much of aviation was opened up because of prizes, and the idea that let's have a prize for space flight emanated from that conversation. and in 1996, we launched a $10 million prize under the arch in st. louis to incentivize teams to build space ships, all kind of space ships that would be for the rest of us. and the space ship one vehicle built that flew twice to 100 kilometers altitude back in 2004 was then purchased, the rights of that was purchased by virgin galactic to make space ship two, what we're seeing here today. >> in fact, i'm going to ask our control room to take a picture
of it. i've got my model of space ship one signed by you. this was back on that day in 2004. we're looking now at imagery on the bottom of the space ship two that will fly today. space ship one, the original, is now in the smithsonian air and space museum. but did you know in 2004 what becomes of the space industry that you had helped give birth to? >> you know, ali, i always was confident that the space industry was going to blossom. i honestly didn't think it would take as long as it has. it's been 17 years since space ship one made its x prize winning flights, and we handed over the $10 million. i didn't think 17 years was going to be the right time frame for it. but happy that it's here. what's amazing is the work that has been done by multiple camps at this point. i think the genie is finally out
of the bottle. we obviously have virgin galactic, hats off to richard who has stuck with this, funding this for that long a period of time. it could not have been cheap. >> let me ask you about something you and i talk about. what people don't know about you and x prize. space is what i got involved with the x prize for is one quarter of what x prize does. you are worried on a daily basis about hunger, about climate, about technological matters, about hurricanes. this concept of space as solution, as opposed to space as playground, talk to me a bit about this. >> well, first of all, the x prize is working on solving the world's grand challenges across the board in food and energy and water and health care and education. we have since the original $10 million prize, we launched about a quarter of billion of prizes another 15 or so prizes to pull
water out of the atmosphere, to map the ocean floor, to clean up oil spills. whenever there is an audacious achievable problem that's stuck and isn't moving forward, we'll come up with a prize, set a target, a deadline, inspire and invite teams from around the world to attack it. and saying, i don't care where you are, where you went to school, if you can solve this problem, you win, you get the money, and the rest of the world gets the solution. now, space represents for us many different things. it should represent something that's amazing and awe, it should represent the next economic frontier. everything we hold of value on earth, metals, mineral, energy, real estate, are in infinite quantities in space. we need to understand what's going on out there. we talk about the dangers we
have at x prize, that x prize can help solve. you know, dangers like pandemics and we spend a lot of time on how to attack and prevent pandemic. there are dangers of asteroid strikes. an asteroid strike will make the pandemic look like a sunny day in california. so ultimately we need to know how to detect those asteroids. rendezvous and deflect them. >> peter, stand by because i am going to want to see your face when this thing that you gave birth to is about to take off moments from now. i want to just bring in marina koran, staff writer with the atlantic, and she covers space for them. marina, tell us about what we need to know about this space flight. it's been focused on richard branson. richard branson has been focused on space for a very long time in his career. what do you make of what's happening today? >> well, this is definitely a huge day for richard branson because he's wanted to go to
space ever since he watched the moon landing in 1969. he said that when he saw the footage of neil armstrong walking on the surface of the moon, he knew without a doubt some day he would go to space. so this is a big day for him, but it's also a big day for space tourism in general. branson has long wanted to create a commercial space line. so has jeff bezos. so, you know, people -- private citizens and space tourists have gone to space before, but they've done so in a different way. they've flown alongside professional astronaut and flown on government-operated spacecraft. now the game is extremely different. they have several options to choose from. they have virgin galactic, blue origin, jeff bezos' company and spacex, elon musk's company. >> peter, let me ask you about the concept of competition, incentivized competition, bringing a lot of money into
this idea of space exploration or any solution that you need. one of the things you worry about when people look at space, what if we were spending that kind of money on something else, government money. the concept here is that it's not government money. people probably should be happy that people are spending their own private money on space so the government can spend its money somewhere else. >> this is private money. we raised the capital so the original $10 million for our private -- x prize came from a family, amir put up the capital. the teams, that $10 million of capital incentivized about 26 teams who took very different solutions, right, one of the beautiful things about competition is every possible design was being looked at. it incentivized about $100 million by the teams to be spent which was also raised privately. we typically get ten to 50 times -- we recently had elon
musk fund $100 million mega, giga co2 removing prize, moving it from the oceans to long-term storage facility. all the monies we have, very little comes from the government. but at the end of the day, what we're really trying to do is spark a new industry, and so it's important the private companies competing for this retain intellectual rights to develop it. virgin galactic, the story was out of st. louis i raiseed the first million dollars or so from the new spirit of st. louis who want to see this happen. we leveraged that to create a $10 million prize. the $10 million prize drives 116 -- the $100 million gives birth to virgin galactic which is an 8, 9, $10 billion company. that's been the leverage we keep
seeing. now, should government be spending money in space? of course. there is a massive economy in space from satellites for communications, for earth observation, and it's just the beginning as we go beyond this. i for one as an american am very happy the early european kings and queens spent the money they did for us to go -- to be here in america. and i think wherever we end up settling in the decades and centuries ahead, they'll be glad we spent the money we did today. >> marina, talk to me about that because there is tension in this world right now, in a world where there was greater inequality in 1969 or 1994 or 2004 when that -- i'm sorry, x prize was won. there are people wondering whether these are the kinds of things we should be focusing on, and people like peter make a good point. the government shouldn't be coming up on spending in space,
but it certainly seems to be less of a public priority than it used to be. >> right, it definitely seems to be moving that way. and you're right, there is tension. you know, some people i've talked to recently when i told them about branson's flight, bezos's flight coming up, they're like, read the room. is this really the time for this? but this is what these very wealthy men want to do and they've managed to do it. branson, for his part, says that he thinks that space belongs to everyone. that everyone should have a shot to go to space. and he wants to fly many private citizens to the edge of space every year and see what he's going to see today. you know, the curvature of the earth against the darkness of space, and hope that the people that see that are so moved by the experience that they come back to earth and tackle earth's problems. that's what branson -- that's his vision for virgin galactic. and while it's a noble goal, it's kind of an unrealistic one at the moment because the people
who will be taking these suborbital flights in the future, whether that's on virgin galactic or blue origin, are going to be rich people. and so effectively right now, these are more joy rides than they are anything else, and that's definitely an interesting moment for the american space flight. >> let me tell you where we are right now. it is 10:34 in the east, 8:30 a.m., 8:35 a.m. at space port america, in new mexico. this flight was rescheduled for 10:30 a.m. eastern. so it should have taken off five minutes ago. obviously you're looking at it and it hasn't. however, we have not been informed of any delay. it would be typical sometimes for there to be small delays. in other words, this may not be an organized delay. leland, let me just ask you because you have been on one of these things. what are the things you think, well, everything's been done. why wouldn't it take off at 10:30. what could be happening? >> well, ali, there is always --
you're checking all the systems to make sure everything is a go. you have people in mission control in charge of hydraulics, propulsion, these different areas that need everyone to give a sign-off before you start running down the runway. and i think that when i launched in space in 2008, you know, we were actually just launched in 2007, and we had some engine -- actually, it's rolling right now. so they're a little bit late, but -- yeah. >> leland is a better tv anchor than i am. he noticed it was rolling before i did. this is the beginning of the flight for vss "unity." vss stands for virgin space ship "unity." "unity" is the model of plane space ship 2. as peter and i were discussing, the aircraft that launched and succeeded in 2004 to win the x
prize was space ship one. then they developed it into space ship two. the way this works is that entire spacecraft is actually three spacecraft. three aircraft. it's two fuselages over one single spacecraft. so the spacecraft itself, vss "unity" is the thing in the middle that will detach from it once it gets up there. it's not really three. it's two spacecraft, two aircraft really. the big thing that takes it up is called the mother ship. that's called "eve" named after richard branson's mother who passed away. tom costello is watching this from the ground at space port america. tom, temperature us what will happen. it will take off like an airplane and at 55,000 feet, it will look like a normal airplane flight. >> reporter: you're right, two fuselages which is unusual. can i set the scene on the ground? we're going to push 100 degrees here in new mexico.
that's what it's been the last few days. moments ago we am a tarantula crawl by on the platform. the excitement building here at space port america. this is not a situation where the -- for people in the neighboring communities are going to come and watch. this is pretty much invitation only on the scene. as you can see, we have the mother ship "eve" with "unity" below it now taxiing the runway. a two-mile runway built specifically just for this. just for commercial space flight. and now preparing to take off. the chief pilot as we've said, david mckay, who is a veteran of the royal air force, and then you've got his copilot, his fellow test pilot also there with him in the cockpit. and as you know, we've mentioned his name many times and his name is -- i'm -- >> michael masucci. >> reporter: thank you, sir. he has a great nickname.
they're both really typical test pilots. i've talked to them both many times. they are both so cool and calm and collected. you wonder if they ever -- if their pulse ever elevates because they are so on top of every detail here. but it's going to be a slow climb out of the new mexico desert to then get to 50,000 feet to do the release, and then firing the rocket and kicking into 3 1/2 gs, 2300 miles per hour as they go at mach iii up towards the edge of space which as we've said is in excess of 50,000 miles above the earth -- sorry, 50 miles above the earth, and that they will probably go to more like 55, 56 miles above the earth. in fact, that's what dave mckay has already done in the same vehicle. why does that matter? it's bragging rights because the nasa and the military say 50 miles is the edge of space. and we've got the folks over in the bezos camp saying it's really 62 miles. does it matter if you're
floating weightless for 3 to 4 minutes? you get the same effect and regardless, the faa is still going to give those folks the civilian astronaut wings, if you will. i have to say, as you know, anything that has a virgin brand on is or richard branson brand on it, they tend to do it big and they've certainly done this one up big. they've got a heck of a performance on the stage here. stephen colbert is also going to be helping to emcee the online presence here. they've got music playing. it's going to be quite an experience on the ground. >> looks like they're rolling. let's watch, it's rolling. this is vss "unity" on the mother ship "eve" getting ready. we believe it's got good speed to it so it looks like this might be the take-off roll on a two-mile runway at space port america. let's watch this go. and we have left-off of the vss "unity" on the mother ship "eve"
from space port america in new mexico headed to 50,000 feet, where it will detach the actual spacecraft, the vss "unity," which is the one in the middle. >> it will take several minutes to climb to altitude. this is it for the release of the unity 22. we'll let you know the release moment as close as you can look at the sky over space port to see all the action. >> and obviously we will lose that shot fairly quickly. it will take seven minutes to get to 50,000 feet which is awfully fast, by the way, if you fly on commercial flights. commercial flight goes to 37, 40,000 feet generally speaking. takes a little longer than that to get to that speed. so, tom costello, this is going faster in the initial period. and then what happens when it gets to 50,000 feet. tell us what happens at 50,000 feet. >> reporter: so, as you take a look at that aircraft, you can
see, just to make it clear to anybody who hasn't watched that already, hanging below "eve" is "unity." latched beneath the wing. at 50,000 feet, you'll hear the pilots going through a series of checklists, l 10, l 9, l 8, l stands for launch. literally, they're going through the checklist. when they get to the bottom you'll see them release unity. unity doesn't drop very far. eve pulls away, then unity lights the rocket, the rocket that will carry them up towards 50,000 feet at mach iii. we mentioned it earlier, but this is a hybrid motor that uses both solid and liquid propellants. when they get to altitude they'll have three or four minutes of being weightless. candidly, the fact some of these folks -- richard has never been in space before. the two of the three passengers have never been in space before. i wonder whether that's going to be so disorienting for the
moment that they're going to be able to think about their tasks that have been assigned to them. i think they're going to be so overwhelmed with just the idea oh, my goodness gracious, i'm in a very low orbit, sub-orbit, i'm flying weightless, looking at the earth. i think that's going to consume their attention. the pilot said this is a full sensory experience. it is dead silent, as your guests know better than i do, dead silence with the spectacular view of the earth. and then they will eventually, within an hour, be back down here on the ground. and i don't know if you can hear the music. it ain't dead silent here on the ground. they're going to be greeted by a big performance here on the ground with a lot of music and a lot of performance. but the critical moment is going to be not only that rocket kicking in, and then achieving that height at about 56 miles above the earth. but then reentry, with that feather-back wing system, you
know, i think that's what everybody holds their breath on. they've done it successfully many times on test runs. but that is what actually -- they had a problem with that in 2014 and a test pilot was killed. they've done redesigns. they've done major safety stand downs to address all of that. but i think if there is any concern anybody has as it relates to this vehicle, as it is still a test vehicle, it's that particular feature. >> leland melvin, you have done this before of the group of people who are here with me this morning who has gone up into space. you did it a different way, a different concept. but that lift-off on a rocket ship, take-off on an airplane is always the worrisome and dangerous time. what is going on in the first seven minutes where they're trying to get to 50,000 feet? >> well, it took me 8 1/2 minutes to get into space, ali. we had two solid rocket boosters. when they got jettisoned, it's similar to the vms lowering the
unity down, lighting its rocket and taking off into space. i think in your mind, you're going through your checklist of things you're supposed to do. as tom said, you're getting this excitement. think about yourself and micro gravity, looking back at the planet the first time and getting this perspective shift. you may not be doing all your tasks right away. but we trained for so many years -- i trained for ten years as an astronaut to make sure that i focus, hyper focused on the task at hand. c.j. sterkow is actually flying the vms. one of the things he told me when i was about to launch in space, i made a mistake when i was doing something for, i glommed on that mistake, i made it again. he said you put it behind you and keep going forward. that second or third mistake can be detrimental. focus on the task at hand. >> peter, you are a trained
pilot. that's what they train pilots all the time, fly the plane. do the mission in front of you right now. how do you feel right now, peter? in 1994, you set about to witness this day. how do you feel? >> so, i feel great. and i think that we've done enough testing on these ships that i expect safety. and i told richard, i'm happy to be his stand-in on this flight if he wanted me to. so we're going to be seeing like five different phases of flight. the first phase of flight right now the next 5 to 7 minutes, you're in the airplane, you feel like you're in airplane. you're basically climbing at altitude. once the engine -- once the rocket engine is checked and eve drops the ship, too, it will be a moment in which it is in freefall. eve will use its tremendous wings and wing over and pull up
away at the same time that space ship 2 ignites its rockets. the rocket engine is a hybrid engine. it's burning a oxidizer down the center, down the center of a solid fuel, rubber. and it is a rough ride. that engine is nice, smooth rocket engine like leland experienced on the solid rocket boosters. it's going to be a rough ride. it's loud. it's got a lot of vibration and it's going to be firing for a couple minutes. at the same time that the pilots are pointing the nose of space ship 2 literally straight up at the sky to get as much altitude as possible. and when the engine shuts down after the vehicle was traveling at above mach iii, there is a period at which the engine is shutdown, but the space ship is still moving, you know, vertically higher and higher and higher, and it's during that
vertical ascent, that it shuts down, you're looking out the windows, looking at the zero gravity, the momentum is keeping you going higher and higher and higher until in this case about 56 miles, just short of where the 100 kilometer altitude for the x prize was. and because earth's gravity is strong and you haven't given it enough energy, earth's gravity starts pulling the spaceship back down, and one giant parabolic arc. in that time when you're out of the atmosphere, the feather mechanism, which is the back half of the vehicle, winging over, a beautiful innovation by bert butan, to implement what he calls a carefree reentry, meaning you take your hands off the wheel, the aerodynamics, shape of the wing, like a shuttlecock in badminton always
has the nose forward and the wings with the higher air pressure as it re-enters, and it comes down into re-entry, those wings, the large wings have to go back into their normal position and it's a glider all the way back down to the runway. but it's that time between the engine shutting off, going straight up about three minutes, coming back down, and then entering the atmosphere -- it's that time when it's both quiet, you're weightless and your eyes are glued out those giant space ports. >> and just to be clear, the spaceship will continue to ascend at that -- near the top of the parabolic arc. it is that moment taking it up and tip down and head back toward earth. >> yeah, ali, you know, there are many ways to experience that. you can do a suborbital flight.
one of the things we do, we have a company called zero gravity corporation, which i founded 20 years ago with byron lichtenberg. you do 15 of those. it's one of the stages. we'll we'll see a lot of different approaches. this is the equivalent of the early theys of barn storming after, you know, the 19 -- 1927 lindbergh makes the flight across the atlanta and the early days of aviation. people are flying in airplanes in short distances and finally across condition and transatlantic. we think nothing of it today to get in the plane flying, you know, new york to l.a. and have a meeting, get back on a plane, and fly back to new york. it would have taken months and many lives and now it's routine.
>> may is back with us. we're probably -- we haven't gotten notice of it yet but may will be with us in a second. we have gotten notice of it yet but we're past the seven minute mark, at this point. so the separation or the release should have taken place. we obviously don't have a camera on that because it's at 50,000 feet in the, you know, over the earth. i don't know if tom has information on that yet. tom, will we get notice when the separation takes place? >> reporter: i presume it's going to be matter of us listening closely. i'll just tell you, it's so loud in here with the speakers playing behind me. they've got, you know, richard branson, as you know, he's a showman. they're putting on preproduced videos showing the lead up to this and this is -- they have gone all out to -- this is not just, of course, building
branson's brand. it's about the virgin galactic brand. they're trying to go beyond this particular flight and setting the stage and recruiting what they hope will be hundreds of people who are going to be hopefully flying on virgin galactic spaceships, plural, in the coming years. he told me they have 700 people already signed up. they started at $250,000 a ticket. it's already gone up beyond that. they hope to eventually bring it down. they said that eventually we would like to give it to our kids or your spouse as an anniversary present or graduation gift. but at the moment, right now it's about building that brand name and the confidence and the brand and the safety and all of that. so they're doing that through a very, very slimly produced series of videos that are streaming on their website. stephen colbert has been hosting it, as well. they'll have a heck of a party on the ground here. you know, as you know, richard
branson is no stranger to cameras. he's always loved cameras and his stunts over the years to kick off his brands, whether it's virgin cola, that didn't go so well, or the virgin atlantic brand or the record stores or whatever, he's known how to grab the spotlight and he loves the spotlight. there's no doubt about it so today he's in the spotlight and this company, which he built from the ground up, there was no virgin galactic four. he started at a stand alone potion 17 years ago and now they're on their way right now to 55 or 56 miles up in the low earth experience. all is going as planned and they'll have released the rocket as peter described it. and then this thing is going to jet up to 50 miles.
rocket up, really literally to 50 miles above space. tell me a little bit about what is probably happening now >>well, i think, you know, the release is probably already happened and there's a little bit of time that floats and then that engine gets ignited with that dual fuel and then they're going to fill the g's. when i've launched or the space shuttle latches, i felt 3g going through my chest. it was hard to breathe at times or move your head around. they'll get 3 plus gs as their going up. i think it's going to be hard to lift their arms up. i think they're in a seated so the gs are coming down this direction in their body. i think many people will feel the excitement. they are excited but, you know, we feel this rocket taking off like it is and from an airplane to a rocket ship, essentially, they'll be more excited and get ready for that, you know, that engine cut off, as peter said. it's going get quiet and start
undoing your seat belt and looking a the planet and get in something we call the orbital perspective. you look back at the planet and you see the rivers and the oceans and the colors. the colors are so vibrant. it almost fundamentally changes the way that you think about humanity because it's this perspective shift that. frank wright coined in the book "overview." i think that's the thing that richard is trying to capture. more people to get this perspective shift and then will be no wars, people coming together thinking about how we can solve the problems. and the other thing when you get to space, you know, you think about working together with people because if you don't work together we falter. in space we have come down with the people we used to fight against and now we're friends. we're brothers. we're family. we want to share that same
community feeling with everyone. >> so this is an important point because you're sharing seats with them in rocket ships. particularly americans who had to go to the international space center since the end of the shuttle program. they were hitching rides on russian shuttles. you are in the international space center with people who speak different languages and things. does politics fall away at that point? is that the impression you're looking back on effort and realizing some of the things we fight about might be small. >> politics evaporate. if we don't focus on the task at hand, if we flip the whereon switch, it's game over. if we're training together within we're talking about our families. i'm in russia training, germany, america training and we know no matter what the political situations along with the presidents and things that, you know, that stuff going on above
our heads, we're in the trechblgs making sure that we have the training and everything we need to come home to our families. that's the most critical part of working as a family and a team. and peter talked about the tech logical advances we'll get from flying in space. i think the technological advances pale in comparison to the social advances we make when we work as a family. as russians, germans, americans. i think all kinds of people in space different races, genders, cultures and we bonded and worked together, again, as one international family. >> peter, what happens with nasa next? obviously this is the couple nation and beginning of a new phase of space exploration and space tourism and the commercialzation of space. in your opinion, what happens with nasa after this?
>> you know, we've seen this game before where we made a real big push in space in the '60s. "mercury," "gemni" and "apollo." it was driven by a political race. things are different now in it's not a political race anymore that is driving this. it is what really the set of individuals, you know, i know -- i've known jeff bezos since college. i was at m.i.t. jeff was at princeton. elon i've known for 22 years and richard a bit more than that. all of these men are passionate about business, yes, but also about making the human race a multiplanetary species.
it's a moral, ethical obligation to move the marbles and our -- off planet irreversibly. so the difference now is we've got two wealthiest on the planet committing to opening up space. and we begin industries. we begin building on the moon and froms a troid materials and on mars. the same thing the human race has always done. we did it as we moved out of africa and doing it now as we are moving out of, you know, out of the old world into the new world. we'll do it again. it's a playbook we use and use very well. >> the wait of the space flight.
the vss unity should have separated from the mothership which took it to 50,000 feet. we should be well above that. rockets have activated. we'll do a quick reset for you. it's the top of the hour. 11:00 a.m. eastern. if you're joining us, about 15 minutes ago the virgin galactic took off in new mexico. the plan was that it would get up to 50,000 feet, which is just higher than what commercial airlines typically fly at and they would separate from the mothership. the mothership would come back down to earth. the rocketship would ignite and head up to 50 miles above space. what we're looking for right now is news that has happened. probably another 0 minutes or so before that ship starts to turn
around and head back to earth. it's a par bollic flight. it goes from the ground up. faster that. the speed of sound and turn around and head back down. it will land, for our purposes, like an airplane. i want to go to tom costello at the site of the launch. the virgin galactic launch site. it's a big loud celebration there. what we're looking for is information. do we know what happened yet, tom? >> reporter: yeah. we do we need to find the live feed. we'll get you the live feed right now. i'm looking a the live feed on the ground. they have not yet detached from the mothership. they're going to do that, i'm told, at altitude 45,000 feet they're going to detach as opposed to 50,000 feed. we're getting the feed from on board the ship. it suggested we're still looking at the mothership still holding
it. what you're looking at there is what happened earlier this morning. this is going to play out until they reach that altitude 45,000 feet and then that's when we'll have the spaceship detachment from the mothership and rocketing up to, as we mentioned many times already, climbing up to 50,000 feet or 56,000. in fact, if they're able to replicate what they have done with the test pilots, as well. right now what you're looking at is the launch. it happened awhile ago. you have a feed that shows you what is going on right now? you're still seeing the vss unity rocket ship attached to the mothership? >> reporter: yeah, that's absolutely right. so, you know, keep in mind they did take off a little late. right. ening they took off closer to 8:40 local time, i believe. so that pushes the timeline
here. one reason they take off in the early morning as peter is a better expert than i am. you want to avoid taking off in the extreme afternoon heat 100 degree temperatures here in new mexico. >> peter, tell us, again, we are talking about 45 or 50,000 feet above earth when the ship itself "vss unity" will detach. this then propels itself -- it will then as soon as the mothership falls away, as you said, the rocket will ignite shortly thereafter? immediately thereafter? >> yeah. a time to get the run away and slowly spiral upwards to those 45 to 50,000 feet has been typically about 40 or 45 minute flight time. sometimes it's an hour to get
there. it depends on how hot the day is. as tom said, the flights are typically in the morning because it's cooler and the higher air density. it's easier to get to higher altitude. it's also less wind. the winds pick up later in the day and you don't want the winds. anyway so the airplane part of this with the spaceship suspended in the center it will get to about 45,000 feet. the airplane carrying the spaceship will then accelerate and start to pull up and over and there's a release, at that point, where spaceship two will fall and the airplane will wing over and pull away as the weight below is detached. it pulls away. it lights the hybrid engine. it's an oxidizer and rubber and
they burn together and once lit it can be turned off but it isn't going to be turned back on. it turns on and off and burn for two minutes and the pilots are here because it's a -- machine unlike jeff bezos on blue origin tsa i controlled. on the vss, it is hand flown and the pilot is flying a very careful trajectory to use that two minutes of engine thrust in a vertical way that gets them to peak altitude. if you are off 2 or 3 percentage, you will not hit the target altitude, you'll go down range. >> jeimeson is back with us. the first woman of color in space. a former nasa astronaut. what are you thinking about now?
we're about 25 minutes into the flights, as petter points out. it spirals up. it's not a straight line up. we may not be at the 45,000 feet we've heard where the release takes place. we were talking about 50,000 feet. it looks like maybe 45,000 feet. they're not there yet. they're getting ready. tell me what you're thinking. >> so my thoughts are running from the discussions '02 having before about crews involved and how do we move forward as a society and the engineering that is going on right now. because i think what is very interesting and very special about virgin galactic it accessed orbit in a different or accessed space in a very different way. this sort of pushes the engineering forward in space exploration in being ways we did it's a hybrid engine. you're doing a lot of heavy
lifting, so to speak, from a regular airplane and then taking off. so it provides us with different access points to space. so i'm thinking about the engineering. i'm thinking about how the energy among the crew must really be building. >> yeah. >> and how they're going to think about this. >> it's a pretty exciting moment for those folks. we go to tom costello. >> right now we've been discussing they're playing a promotional video for richard branson. when they cut over and show the internal cameras, we'll bring it to you. again, you know, peter is the first person who brought me into a zero g flight. a number of years ago. i don't know if peter remembers. but, you know, when you talk about being disoriented at first and you experience zero gs.
you can't quite remember everything you wanted to do. i was shooting a story for nbc news at the time and we were doing the flights and experiencing zero gs for, i don't know what it is 20 or 30 seconds or so at a time. you're trying to remember what the heck i was supposed to do. so that's the challenge, i think, when these folks hit that weightlessness. trying to remember all of their tasks may be difficult and, you know, they haven't had the two years of astronaut training your veterans have had. they really only had a short period of time. they're very excited about this entire trip. when they do, in fact, release, it's going to be a kick in the pants because they're going to accelerate there to mach 3, which is 2300 miles per hour. richard branson is forthcoming about the fact he's dyslexic. he said sometimes i get my numbers back ward. he said we'll be going at 3,000 miles per hour. not quite. 2300 miles per hour.
he said we're going to probably detach at 40,000 feet. it ended up 45,000 to 50,000 feet. he's the big picture guy who has been just so excited about putting this all together. and what you're hearing behind me is the voice, the show that virgin is putting on as they approach that 45,000 level where they detach from the mothership. >> may gemson, you trained for this thing, you know the only way peter remembers whether tom or i were on the flight with him if you threw up. humans are trying not to throw up. you trained for this stuff. these six people on the flight are going to go through this motion. they'll be weightlessness and then that craft will start to come down toward earth literally as peter described with the help of gravity. what does it feel like? >> think about being on a big rollercoaster. as you're going up, as you've
heard, you, you know, 3g across your chest. then you're at the top. you have about 3 to 4 minutes where you're weightless. yes times you may feel bad but you're so excited to be able to experience this weightlessness. people are going to put it out of their minds. you know, i think you're going to be looking a out the window and trying to do what you do and their training comes into play, even if you make a train for a shorter period of time, i'm sure that they'll know what is going on and what is happening and get the most out of being up. >> and we forget, by the way, that for all of you, whether you're an nasa astronaut or the crew, the mission specialists on this team, everybody has work to do. it's not a joyride. they have a few minutes up there. we have people on there who are going to be handling particular experiments in the short time they're up there. they're evaluating the procedures because if others are going to follow after them, they have to know what works and what doesn't work from a timing perspective.
this concept that when you're in space in the early days, it's not really all that much tourism just yet >>well, it's tourism sort of like you're going to an archaeological dig. >> right. >> you're still there. you're still excited to be a part of it. and i think that is the really an extra benefit is that it's not just looking out the window. it's also understanding what space as a platform can bring to us and being a part of that and being able to come back down and include that in your work. so i think there's a big part of this. >> peter, do they -- on this ship, you know, when you did the flights, you expected some people will get sick? regular people are not used to this. our bodies are not used to that sort of thing. these people are not fully trained astronauts. but, you know, they've done some
training. >> yeah. so the expectations for people only, you know, they'll be flying about 30 people in the back of the flights. here you're doing one and motion sickness is really -- this comes from the discoordination of what you're seeing and your inner ear is feeling. i would say that there's probably rather low probably they'll get motion sick. motion sickness in space is something that is the longer period of time but what they're going to experience -- you know, the zero g is a very different story. it's not floating in the water. it's very different. here is combination of weightlessness and the view out the portals. right. so getting out of your seat.
floating around. looking out the window and realizing you have three minutes to do that. that's different than orbit. like what the dragon does from spacex. it's 50 times more difficult from an energy perspective but when your going to orbit, you're reaching velocity of 17,500 miles per hour and staying in orbit around the earth for as long as you want, before you come down. >> tell us the distinction from the perspective of why my audience would think one is more important or less important than the other. >> yeah so it's the difference between what allen shepard did and what john glen did in the early space program. alan shepard, like we're seeing here with the virgin galactic
and blue origin is the lowest hanging fruit. it's basically if you threw a rock straight up in the air and that rock was able to go up to 50 or 60 miles high. gravity will eventually pull it back down to the earth. that's your flight. a hop up into the atmosphere and back down. that's what a sub orbital flight is. an orbital flight, you throw a rock so hard that it misses the earth and goes all the way around the earth and goes coming flying back from behind your head over and over again and you're in orbit. you're flying at 17,500 miles per hour and orbiting the earth every 90 minutes. it's a matter of how fast you have to go when the space shuttle or when falcon 9 and dragon are going to orbit,
they're expending enough energy 50 times more energy than we're seeing here by these vehicles. it's the velocity squared for high school a students at home, you know, it's mach 3 minus -- versus mach 27 or 28 thereabouts. and seven times the velocity and 49 times the energy. it's much harder, to put it that way. >> we're hearing from virgin fwa lactic that we're within 15 minutes, probably, by 11:30 a.m. eastern we'll have the separation which is the release. i'm using old fashioned terms. release of the spaceship -- unity. a rock can fall back to earth.
this is not going to fall back. this is going to land properly because the whole point about this exercise was that it was going to be reusable. i'm going to ask you standby. msnbc is going to join our mothership network nbc for a special report on the historic virgin galactic space launch. we're anticipating separation in just a few minutes. good morning. i'm willie geist in new york. we're coming on-air with the launch in space travel. 70-year-old richard branson is aboard the virgin galacticship unity. he and five crew members will experience a few minutes of weightlessness before returning and landing on a runway in the new mexico desert. the mission began with the you knowty spaceship hanging below a mothership and then will be released momentarily to touch the edge of outer space.
branson is making the trip this week. a week and a half ahead of the world's richest man jeff bezos, who plans to do the same on his own blue origin ship. nbc tom costello is there when the journey began a short time ago. he's at space port america in new mexico. an extraordinary day. what are we seeing now? >> reporter: at very moment we're at the point where we expect that "unity" will detach and drop from the mothership. the mothership eve. we expect at any moment now, roughly 36,000 to 45,000 feet. we're getting a live feed from virgin galactic. their own broadcast production. so we're watching very closely. at the moment, that feed would suggest they are still, in fact, attached. it will be any minute. when they do detach, the others on board, five others on board, including the two pilots, will
rocket at a very accelerated mach 3, 2300 miles per hour and that's 3.5 gs, by the way, on the way to the altitude you mentioned. the bottom line here, they're trying to achieve that goal of 50 miles to 56 miles above the earth. that would put them very comfortably in what nasa and the military calls the edge of space or into space. as you know, there's been a back and forth. some on the bezos team suggested it's not high enough for space. blue origin will go to space and branson won't. it doesn't really matter, you'll be 3 to 4 minutes of weightlessness. the faa and nasa acknowledge it's, in fact, space. that's what we're waiting for now. it comes down to this here as we await this moment when it detaches and then rockets there to the edge of space. >> tom, when we talk about when we're about to see as they rocket to the edge of space. we have a graphic that shows the
flight path. the best way to describe it for the laymen is being on a rollercoaster at six flags. you have a steep climb and come over and going straight down. what does it feel like for the people on board? >> reporter: so it's that curve at the top you'll experience the 3 to 4 minutes of weightlessness. i've had the experience, to, in fact, do a weightless flight in which you get 20 seconds of weightlessness, more or less. it's going to be 3 to 4 minutes and each of the astronauts have been assigned a task. assigned a task to perform. guys, i'm watching it right now. let's watch this feed right now. a critical moment, i think, is approaching. they have not been detached. here we go. >> with the commission control center throughout each check here. you know, these days more and more systems are becoming automated. especially in aircraft and
spacecraft. what is exciting about the virgin galactic space flight system, our crew truly are hands on with the piloting throughout the flight. >> so what we're looking at -- >> reporter: to talk about detaching. >> incredibly excited. >> reporter: yeah. 46,000 feet. about the level where we expect them to detach. you'll hear the pilots talk about going through a checklist before they drop. they'll say l-10, l-9, 8, all the way down to one and that's where they detach and drop. we're hearing five minutes away from detachment. this has been a little bit of a moving target because we adopt have -- don't have a typical nasa minute control. it's giving us second by second updates. we'll flying by the seat of our panlts. we'll take a look live inside the spaceship. probably 4.5 minutes away or so in an altitude in excess of
46,000. >> they have reached the cruising altitude. they're hitting a spot ahead of them. and the worry to our viewers, tom, if you look, that's the mothership "eve." those are the trails coming off the back and detached underneath the ship is "vss unity." i note how calm everybody looks. it looks like they're catching the shuttle from d.c. to la guardia. it's something to watch. [ laughter ] >> reporter: spectacular view. i just heard them say we're now -- we've gone through l-4. that means they've gone from the number 10 on the checklist down to 4. now seeking clearance for release. as you can see, they are at 46,000 feet. so we're literally playing this by ear, guys. none of us have seen this before with passengers on board. so we're going to listen in here to virgin galactic's narration and the mission control here. >> the experience departments
and disciplines within the company and verifying checks with the crew today every step of the way. all right. and i heard from mcc that our the four checks are complete. roughly three minutes out from release at this point. it's getting exciting. i don't know about you all but i can feel the anticipation watching this and looking at their faces. look at that, they have big smiles on. and we have just received word on time for mission control center. we're 2:30 out. >> as we listen in, we'll bring in a former nasa astronaut. the current senior advisor for space programs at the intrepid sea, air, and space museum in new york and ron gar ron a former nasa astronaut. good morning. it's great to have you with us. let me begin with you, mike. it's not something we've seen before. even those who have been to orbital space. what do you make of what you've seen so far this morning? >> well, thank you for having
me. it's a pretty exciting day. i think it marks a time where we've gone from governments going into space to a vehicle that has been designed to bring customers, researchers, tourist people who want to enjoy the experience into space. it's a historic day. a lot of work is going into this. a lot of work needs to be done during the flight. it's a very, very exciting day for everyone involved. >> colonel garrett, you've been to the international space station a couple of times. four space walks under your belt. what do you imagine the passengers are feeling and going through? no -- >> it's excitement but probably some butterflies in there. and i think they are well aware it's a life-changing moment for them. and hopefully they're savoring it. >> what do you think, colonel, is the feeling they're about to experience. the calm before the moment when the vss unity spacecraft separates from the mothership
and begins that rocket ride up and then back down. what is that sensation? there aren't many people on earth who can speak to it and you're one of them. >> yeah. i think they're going experience a lot of g-force with the acceleration. they're going to be going really fast and get there really fast and then they're going to go from being pushed back into their seat from the force to being weightless instandly -- instantly when the engine kicks off. that's exciting. it is the moment where they realize their dream comes true. their weightless. they're in space. the most amazing thing is the view out the window. they'll watch the sky turn from blue to black and the atmosphere. it's going to be incredible. >> colonel, we're about to see the separation. tom costello, back to you. we're seconds away from the moment here. let's watch. >> release, release, release!
>> there's mach 1. trimming now. tim complete. junety is pointed drengtly up and heading to space. things are looking great. we're 25 seconds into the burn now. approaching mach 2. 30 seconds mach 2. everything is looking good and stable! 40 seconds. 45 seconds. 50 seconds approaching mach 3. there's mach 3. and 60 seconds and that's a full duration burn, folks! we're heading to space!
and the passengers in the back have been cleared to unstrap. our predicted -- is 279,000 feet and climbing. >> they are unlocking -- >> so this is it! this is where we should be experiencing or they should be experiencing weightlessness for about 3 to 4 minutes and we expect we'll have a live shot from within that spaceship. and now they're going to start feathering the wings back so they can begin the very slow process of reentering. as we've said, you know, this is a critical moment as they enjoy those few moments of weightlessness. >> as soon as we cross the boundary to space, we'll hear a word from our founder. >> reporter: once they cross the boundary to space, richard branson will be speaking. we expect him to make a major announcement from space. [ cheers and applause ]
and i'm listening with you to virgin mission control. lots of applause on the ground here. this is what they have been working on for 17 years building to this moment and the hope is that paying passengers will be coming along very soon. >> we're not receiving the broadcast but i know richard is saying something. >> as we wait for the images from inside the spacecraft of the weightlessness, i think back to the interview you did with richard branson who said he was dreaming about this date as a kid when i watched americans walk on the moon in july 20th, 1969. i started to dream of this moment. >> reporter: yeah. and i think they said 280,000 feet now. you know, it's funny, willie, that's one of my earliest memories. i was 6 years old and my dad woke me up at 11:00 p.m. and said don't forget this moment. the astronauts are walking on
the moon. interesting the same impression, in fact, on richard branson. you know, everybody was watching from planet earth on that day and now this is the culmination of his dreams. taking his own space flight. not to the space station or to the moon but an altitude of 56 miles -- there we go. we got images from inside. >> there are the pictures. >> reporter: we're waiting 0 hear what richard branson has to say. we've been lead to believe some announcement assuming they can get the technology to work. >> we've been using the term feathering here as unity climbs and lands. what does it mean exactly? what are -- we watching here? >> reporter: bottom line, they have, you know -- i may defer to the expert in terms of mike. you got a fellow pilot right now there and astronaut in terms of how it works. because it's a delicate
procedure as they feather the wings before reentry. >> mike, what does it mean exactly to feather as they would term here and land shortly on a runway in new mexico? >> yeah. it's really interesting technology that they're using here. they're kind of combining the aspects of a capsule reentry, which is fairly safe. they can feather those the wings so they kind of form in line with the spacecraft. so it can enter and take the heat of reentry in the best way and deploy them again for the landing. so it's kind of combining what we've seen before with a capsule entry along with a, like, space shuttle or glider landing on a runway. so pretty innovative and a cool way to do it. >> colonel garrett, you flew f-16s in the united states air force. >> yeah. i did. and, you know, mike explained that well. it changes in configuration.
they get the best of both worlds. the best of the aero dynamic in the capsule and the aero dynamics of an aircraft. tom, go ahead and jump in. >> reporter: this is essentially a glider coming back. not unlike the space shuttle. so they've got a massive runway here in new mexico. they can come back to. not much in the way of a go around opportunity here. they have to come in and hit the landing right on the money. as we've said before, they have a veteran pilot in charge. david mckay, a veteran of the royal air force. he's been a virgin test pilot for years. really spectacular view. look at that, the curvature of the earth, which your guests have seen firsthand but now typical americans, virgin employees but typical americans have been able to see it, as well. experience firsthand. that's really the point here. [ cheers and applause ] and now we're told that the wings are, in fact, locked.
now it's a glider inbound in the glider formation and allowing them to come into the runway here at space port america. about 30 miles or so from truth or consequences, we should tell you. >> passengers have taken their seats again. they're strapped in. we'll bring in stefanie rhule. looking at the space race among billionaires. this is a man, richard branson, who tried to circle globe in a hot air balloon. this, i guess, the next frontier for richard branson. >> reporter: without a doubt, willie. he's broken records for kite boarding. richard branson is a true daredevil. whether you're talking about richard branson or jeff bezos or elon musk, think about these billionaires who are going after this space.
the final front fear. they've achieved all sorts of success betting on themselves and their own brands. if there's one thing richard branson is known for and fantastic at, it's branding. and look at today. you saw that launch. boom virgin galactic. we're watching it on his own network. this really is going to be the first push into commercial space travel. if that's where we're going, there will be room for a jeff bezos or richard branson. you mentioned it earlier, sort of the bickering is branson making it into space? the blue origin team said no. from a global perspective, for the millions of people, willie, who are home watching this, is absolutely in outer space! and richard branson is pursuing and fulfilling his dream to be the first one out there. >> yes, steph. there was a picture, by the way, posted this morning of richard branson having breakfast with elon musk before we left to take
his flight. steph, the question we're debating earlier on "sunday today" is this another step forward? a step toward commercial space travel, so ever far at this moment goes for $250,000 a pop for a seat on one of the spacecrafts. are they bringing it to the people or are these joyrides for the billionaires? >> the plan is to bring it to the people. let's think about what people. it's the richest of the rich people and you and i also know, willie, over the last 10 years, the richest people in the world have gotten a whole lot richer so they can certainly afford it. and these guys are now betting on themselves and their space -- >> i'm going interrupt you. richard branson is speaking >> beautiful space -- it's beautiful, beautiful thing.
[ inaudible ] >> all right. richard branson saying space is a beautiful place. thanking everyone who made the mission possible and admiring the view outside of "vss unity." >> we're so excited for them to land. >> you know luxury and extreme travel is what richard branson does by profession. without a doubt, the goal is how do we move this into commercial? obviously very high-end travel. if the trip is successful and jeff bezos' mission is successful, clearly both would like to make the next venture. for branson, his mission is public funded. he has all sorts of partners here. jeff bezos is privately funded. and the question for the richest of the rich inventors out there, if both become available, what do they want to do?
branson's effort more of a plane where jeff bezos is the rocket experience. will they say will they bring it to the people? it's a small, small, small sliver of the richest, most adventurous people. >> yeah and quarter of a million dollars a pop, that's a small sliver, for now. they hope sometime down the road to to change that. as we approach altitudes that we humans can relate to at 19,000 feet, what happens next with virgin galactic? >> reporter: just a few minutes ago, we had the twin sonic booms on the ground here in new mexico as they come back in now in glider formation. and we expect them to be on the ground within just a few minutes. you can imagine if you're coming in, you know, in the 737, and you can think about your glide slope into the local airport, had -- this is going to be faster than that. we expect them on the ground quicker than if you were in a 737. this is all what they wanted to prove today. the technology is here.
it's now. it's not only for the justin beaners and tom hanks and lady gagas of the world who spent a lot of money buying the tickets at a quarter million dollars, as you suggested, 700 tickets already, but it's going to be assessable to everybody, hopefully. that's their hope to bring down the price. we have seven land rovers out there on the tarmac standing by. we have the fire equipment standing by. that's typical. that's not to suggest there's anything wrong. that's what happens when you have a test vehicle. a test plane or spaceship coming in. the fire department is standing by. by the way, a fire department dedicated only to the space port so they don't get a lot of action. i mean, this is kind of their sole customer right now. but a spectacular view as they come into space port america. remember that name, willie. you've been seeing it this morning but it's going to be a name and something we'll be hearing about increasingly over the coming years as it becomes more and more of a common
occurrence and just hearing the voice here on the ground saying it's right in front of the sun. it's overhead of us. i don't see it but you're getting a better view yourself on the tv with those long range telescopic lenses. >> yeah. mike, we're down to about 11,000 feet of altitude. 243 miles per hour right now. what does that -- you see it? you have eyes on it, tom? >> reporter: i see it. right over the top of us, willie. right over the top. if you didn't know better, you would think you're looking at a typical passenger plane. just flying right over the top of the space port as it comes around and prepares for landing. by the way, we should also make the point they had a spotter plane, if you will, a chase plane take off shortly after they lifted off an hour ago presumably. the same chase plane would be on the ground and, by the way, we see the mothership yeah.
i think we see the -- we see unity in the lead here and the mothership trailing it, it would look like. i guess it makes sense, right. they're coming in faster than the mothership can. so it looks like unity, the spaceship, has the lead as it now approaches the landing strip here on the ground. it looks like it's making a big arc and about to come in for a landing. gears down and locked, they say. boy, it's moving fast! it's really buzzing along. >> mike, what does it feel like on the human body to go through what that crew of six just went through? two pilots, four passengers. as we see those internal cameras. all smiles. it appears everybody is doing well. what does it feel like on their body? >> feeling great out of pure joy, i would imagine. they have gone through a different experience. they were in one gravity. they probably pulled some gs going to space.
they were weightless for awhile. you're floating there and your system is floating, as well. your sense of motion is a little bit distorted. then you come down and the g-forces build up again. that's what happened to them. i think all of that is overriden by pure joy and exsill ration of what they went through. they had jobs to do. they needed to do that. i think the excitement and the happiness they're experiencing now is the overriding feeling. >> and tom costello, it looks like a clean, safe touchdown and landing on the runway. >> reporter: could not be more perfect on this beautiful day in new mexico. it went just perfectly according to plan. the only delay was it left an hour and a half, hour and 45 minutes late because we had winds on the ground that delayed the fuelling this morning. other than that, this could not have gone any better. it seems to have just gone flawlessly from the moment they lifted off all the way through lining the rocket, accelerating, to 56 miles or so above the
earth. i'll be interested to see what number they hit. 56 or 50 miles above earth. and nasa and the pentagon recognizes 50 miles into space. >> what an extraordinary moment. we know next week jeff bezos and blue origin get their turn in a different ship, a rocket. we know elon musk and spacex are working on their own orbital spacecraft. what does this moment? what does this day? what does next week put together? what do they mean for the possibilities in the future? >> i think this historic moment and the historic moments to come are the first baby steps, if you will, to opening up space for everyone. and, you know, stefanie talked about how right now it's just the billionaires but it was -- it's reminiscent of the early days of aviation. it's a rare occurrence as somebody flew in an airplane.
i think we're at the verge or the dawn of a new era of space travel. we're flying on a spaceship and flying on an airplane. that just into orbit but point a to b on the planet. during the flight, you're above the atmosphere. so i think this is a historic moment and i think all these steps are leading to that. when you bring in reusability, economies to scale, i think we're going to see the prices come down. it's going to be more feasible for more people. >> the possibilities are thrilling. an exciting morning. thank you for being with us. this has been nbc's special coverage of the virgin galactic space flight. the coverage continues on msnbc with more tonight on nbc nightly
news. >> we're back. i'm ali velshi. and now touch down. we continue now with more live coverage of the breaking event here on msnbc. let me go to peter who really set the thing off many years ago ago with the -- i'm sorry, xprize that gave birth to spaceship one. this is spaceshiptwo. i bet none of what happened surprised you. you were able to describe it. what do you feel now? because you wanted to see this moment where commercial space flight is a real thing for real people who are not trained stroept -- astronauts. >> yeah. it's a picture perfect flights. it's not a surprise. unlike the early days of the mercury and gem nigh and apollo, we had ability to model the spaceships. so we're pretty good sense
they'll fly on rate as they were built and the problems can -- but my sense now is, you know, richard, i'm next! let me get my flight in here, as it is for many other people. it's the beginning. how can i say it again? it's the early barn storming days. the days where people would pay a month or a year's salary to get in an airplane and fly above their town or their city to see what is below. have this incredible experience. and that lead to the vehicles, the aviation industry that we have today at 300 or $400 aviation industry that does business and allows us to take our families across the u or across to europe. it's just the beginning. so, you know, strap in, get ready, you know, the spacer are a started 50 plus years ago,
right in the '50s and '60s and '70s is finally taking off. it's not dependent on government dollars. it's a commercial space industry. alongside a government space. >> congratulations, my friend. you've put a lot of time and effort into making this day a reality. i've got a bunch of experts here. i have astronauts and space experts. i want to go to somebody with whom i've shared many and historic moments. stefanie rhule. you heard on the nbc special the idea that much like in the early days of aviation, which, by the way, we were not watching on tv. this is a billionaire. richard branson. a select few. and for some time to come it's a select few. but do you think one day space travel becomes like what commercial aviation is today? >> without a doubt the plan here. we both know richard branson.
he's a daredevil. this achievement for him is in line with what he's been doing since the '80s. trying to break world records on hot air balloons. we watched the lauchl and virgin galactic throughout history we're going to remember seeing that branding. we saw that branding as he unofficially launched commercial space travel through the planet. yes, it will be for the foreseeable future for a very, very select few. we both know things will change dramatically. wealthy people have gotten significantly wealthier over the last ten years. whether you're talking branson or bezos, we'll see things move quickly as more and more people get to experience it. for branson, this was the ultimate experience for him personally but the ultimate for branding, which is what he's the best at. >> the first woman of color in
space, dr. may gemson. i was speaking with a staff writer at the "atlantic." she was saying unlike the beginning of commercial aviation and those days, or even when peter started with the xprize or when it was won in 2004 with what became spaceship 1, folks have to read the room. we're in a different time. ten years ago people would say it's the most amazing thing to watch and saying we have all sorts of problems in the world. massive inequality. tell me as an astronaut what prism we should see it through? >> i'm going to tell you as a person and individual who cares about the world. this is an exciting point in time because of the engineering and the accessibility but where we are in the world is a world where people, i went to chicago public schools and didn't have a
lot of money. i got into space with nasa and the space agency. all the stuff this is based on that is happening now is based on work that people funded. so a big question, as we move forward as become the gate keeper to space. it's important, yes, the commercial accessibility is really important. it changes things. i think someone talked about the fact you can now have space planes that can get you to the other side of the world very rapidly. how do we continue to have lots of people involved. and that's the challenge and
want -- the opportunity. >> that's right. who will be the gate keepers of space? what an remarkable point to raise today as we celebrate the achievement. leland melvin is an astronaut, as well. leland, you have watched this thing with us. you watched it from beginning to end, as peter said. this has been well tested. this turned out as we expected it to turn out. there's always a little trend dedication with the things that are first. we've seen a virgin crash and lives lost in the past. what does it mean we notched out one more success in space travel? >> i'm happy richard pulled it off he had the perseverance to keep going. i think the major thing the gate keeper but how do we inspire the next generation of explorers? they see something like this and virgin and richard and the branding and marketing and get excited and say how do i do that? i think that's the bigger part
of this. moving more people to see what is actually possible, you know, go from the mission impossible to mission possible. and what are the steps needed to take to get those people there? so that bigger picture of more people having access to space. not just to billionaires but now down to the quarter million dollars and then at some point, as innovation continues to get better, have more people taking trips like this to space. and the astronauts and the scientists and new engineers that never would have imagined themselves being part of something like this. >> let's talk to one of the new scientists, new engineers, new astronauts. an aero space engineering ph.d. student who wants to be a mission specialist. you're one step closer because of that successful mission. >> absolutely! i mean, for me, there's so many emotions that are being generated right now. one, the biggest thing is safety. they got back safely and they were able to accomplish such an
amazing feat. and the second part, again, so many doors open with the type of technological advances and i'm just excited to have a part in how we continue to engage in space exploration as a human race. >> i want to go back to tom cost -- costello in new mexico. i kw well but it's not a common thing for most americans. after today it may be because of this mission you narrated so beautifully for us. >> i think it's possible. over the coming years we'll become more away of space port america. we're waiting right now for richard branson and his fellow passengers and pilots to come out of the spaceship and there is a heck of a party waiting for them here. you know, i think it's important
for us to remember what an incredible accomplishment this thing is. i mean, they have executed perfectly. they conceived of this. they came up with a great idea. they had fantastic engineering. and they executed. in many ways taking the lead from nasa and all of nasa's engineering over the years and there have been setbacks and tragically a loss of life many years ago, but they absolutely persevered, drilled down on the engineering, and came up with a model that works. you have to hand it to the engineers, the brain power, and clearly richard branson who had this idea that he could make this assessable to everybody and to stephanie's point, you know, about the branding, richard branson is a master showman and master at branding but it matters if you're first because people remember. branson and virgin galactic were
first to prove that it's safe and that's going to be the bar that others have to follow going forward. >> you're 100% right. overwhelming response was they got back safely. that's what everybody always hopes because the next brick gets built on the foundation that's laid by a safe mission that we just saw. to me, watching that touchdown and i want to bring the doctor back into this. i talked to an engineering student, a ph.d. student, but you have watched this forever and this is just another notch in the history of aerospace and the history of space but it's an important one. >> that's right. there's a new vision emerging. the vision of the 1960s was beat the russians to the moon. well, we did. we fulfilled that vision. but the apollo space program consumed 5% of the u.s. federal
budget. that was unsustainable. now we have new visions. the first vision that's new is outer space is not just for the government or astronauts. no for one day, mom and dad. but second, this is the first baby step toward creating a multispecies civilization. as i mentioned, the dinosaurs did not have a space program. the dinosaurs are not here today to celebrate what just happened in new mexico. we are. we have the space program. we want to make sure that humanity has a backup plan in case something bad happens to the planet earth. we have new visions emerging because of this triumph. >> i want to bring in a staff writer at "the public." you are the scribe. you get the first draft of history. what does it look like?
>> i mean, it's a pretty good looking draft. i mean, that landing i definitely breathed a sigh of relief. i think a lot of people did. you saw the scenes from behind tom costello at spaceport america in new mexico. it seemed like a party. i have no doubt that richard branson and the other passengers and the rest of the team at virgin galactic is going to be celebrating tonight. i think that gives the impression that what happened today was routine or safe but it is not. today flight was a test flight and they plan to fly a few more test flights. >> excuse me. i think the flight is landing. tom, do you have that? >> they're coming in right now in their land rovers. they are a co-sponsor of this event. you name the company, if they've
been able to partner up with virgin and do it, under armour and land rover, et cetera, richard branson is no dummy when it comes to branding. here they come. five land rovers to come in with emergency blinkers on to clear this their way through rush hour traffic. a big party waiting for them here. a crowd of vips are here. these are friends and a lot of family members. elon musk is here. former astronauts are here. you can imagine vips. we think the governor is here. this is all about celebrating this very, very big day, not just for virgin galactic but the state of new mexico. they bet big they can build a spaceport here with taxpayer money and it will pay off in
terms of tax revenue. a big day for this entire region. >> bob let us know when they get closer, and we will come right back to you. marina, i interrupted you. i'm sorry. >> no worries. space flight whether launching vertically on a rocket like the way that they are doing things or whether you're in a spaceship dropped from a giant plane, all of this is dangerous. it's risky. and i think when you celebrate it the way that virgin galactic is today people come away with the idea that maybe this is all routine and we've got everything figured out but as it was said earlier when they looked at this flight moments after liftoff, she thought about engineering which is complicated and flight directors and engineers were watching this flight holding their breath hoping it goes well because tragically it doesn't always go well. >> i share your view on that. there's no landing that i don't
look at and think, wow, what an engineering marvel. so much rides on these things and peter, watching that thing come in the way it did, they make it look easy, but you know from your years of struggling to get days like this to come true, it's anything but. it's not just hard, it's dangerous. it's hazardous. it's all the tough things. go ahead. >> can you hear me? >> yeah. go ahead. it's dangerous in the early days and when you're in shaping and designing but what happens over time just like when you get on a boeing 777, you don't think about it because there's enough flights, enough experiences, enough things have gone wrong that you've corrected that you're operating within a comfort zone. the only challenge we is that we haven't had that many flights yet so we don't know all of the possible things that could go
wrong, but we do have much better computer models that can simulate if something happens and so we're getting experience not in the physical world these days. we're getting experience in the digital world as we simulate this. now, i think the important thing about this flight is the fact that richard as principal owner went first before his customers. the important thing is this flight is we've got a public company, right, a company that's trading on the nasdaq taking people to space. we just saw another company just two weeks ago go public and pop up 50%. they're building these really small million dollar rockets to take rockets into space. we're seeing the true commercialization of space. it is no longer just government dollars. these are private companies that see a massive opportunity and are using public capital to open
that space and there's a lot more to go. going to orbit deploying constellations, going to the moon, building facilities there, going to mars, going to asteroids that are worth trillions of dollars in fuel and metal. this is what we humans do. we explore. we commercialize and we make available at a lower and lower cost for other people to follow along with us. >> peter, thank you for joining me. i want to thank all of my guests throughout the morning. we appreciate all of your time this morning. that does it for our special coverage of the virgin galactic launch. if you stuck with us throughout this morning. thank you. you and i just witnessed a piece of history. i'll be back next saturday at
8:00 a.m. eastern. a special thing for me to hand over to my great friend and colleague, alex witt. we are rarely in the same place. great to see you. >> what you just did here. any flight envy? do you wish -- >> oh, yeah. >> you have to think for richard branson the fact they overcame what happened, the disaster in 2014, there has to be a sense of relief and joy. >> all of the feelings. >> i wish we could have heard what he was saying clearly. i was just looking at him thinking my goodness. he has to be screaming and shouting up there and cheering. it was exciting. you did a wonderful job. thank you for carrying us through this morning. >> we'll talk soon. >> i look forward to it. for all of you here we go.