The euphoria of achieving a lifelong dream has not worn off for British entrepreneur Richard Branson after a successful mission to the edge of space on Sunday aboard a rocket-powered vehicle developed by his company, Virgin Galactic.
Branson, 70, spoke with Tom Costello in an exclusive interview on TODAY Monday about his flight with five other crew members from the New Mexican desert to the edge of space more than 53 miles high. The flight lasted just more than an hour and included roughly four minutes of weightlessness.
"I will come down with a thump soon," Branson said. "I've always dreamt about what it would be like to be in a space looking back at this incredible Earth. It's impossible to describe just how magnificent it is."
The crew aboard Virgin Galactic's Unity space ship blasted off at speeds over 2,300 miles per hour to achieve a journey 17 years in the making for Branson, who founded Virgin Galactic in 2004 to create a space tourism business.
"I was once a child with a dream looking up to the stars, now I'm an adult in a spacesuit!" Branson said during a live video of the trip. "It's a complete experience for a lifetime."
It was an alternatively exciting and nerve-racking experience for Branson's children, Holly and Sam, who told Costello about watching their father launch to the edge of space.
"I don't think I'd be a loving son if I wasn't worried," Sam Branson said.
"I knew fundamentally they were going to come back, but it's quite hard when your dad's going to do something so pioneering that no one else has really done," Holly Branson said.
"I only did it so I could see how much you loved me," Richard Branson joked.
Branson proudly earned his astronaut wings during his suborbital trip, where he was joined by pilots Dave Mackay and Michael Masucci and Virgin Galactic chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead operations engineer Colin Bennett and government affairs vice president Sirisha Bandla.
"I'm afraid nobody will ever be able to take them away from us," he said about earning his wings. "Once you're an astronaut, you're always an astronaut!"
The successful mission also gave Branson a leg up in the race to space between billionaires, as it came nine days before Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is expected to blast off into space from Texas on a rocket designed by his own space company, Blue Origin. Bezos congratulated Branson on Sunday, saying "Can't wait to join the club!"
"I hope that he has as extraordinary of an experience as we do," Branson said after having told Costello last week that there was not a competition with Bezos.
Virgin Galactic hopes to begin commercial spaceflights with private customers next year with a cost of about $250,000 per person for a journey to space, although the final price has not yet been announced. The company has already been approved by the Federal Aviation Administration to fly passengers on future commercial flights to suborbital space.
Virgin Galactic has also announced it has partnered with the fundraising platform Omaze to launch a sweepstakes to give away two tickets on a Virgin Galactic spaceflight expected to launch next year.
"To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do!" Branson said on the live video during the flight.