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Richard Branson Lands Back On Earth After Touching Edge Of Space; Donald Trump To Speak At CPAC; Unrelenting Heat Wave Engulfing Western U.S. Aired 3-4p ET

Aired July 11, 2021 - 15:00   ET


FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Love it. All right, Stephanie Elam, thank you so much.

And be sure to tune in, "The History of the Sitcom" premieres tonight with back-to-back episodes at nine and 10 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.



WHITFIELD: Hello again, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

History taking flight above the skies of New Mexico today. Richard Branson boldly going where no billionaire has gone before. Virgin Galactic's supersonic space plane, the VSS Unity taking off with Branson and five others on board this morning. The flight taking them to the edge of space. Here is CNN's Rachel Crane reporting on that breathtaking moment when the supersonic space plane detached from the mothership, Eve.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATIONS AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: You can hear the crowd cheering behind me. This is a historic moment that Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Galactic have been waiting for, for nearly two decades and we have release, Brian. We have release. The rocket engine has ignited.

This is the moment that Branson and his team have been waiting for.

Brian, I've got to pause. I've got to take this in. This is really an incredible moment here.


WHITFIELD: So, it was an hour-long trip and there were a few minutes of weightlessness as well. But the journey to get here was decades in the making. Not only did Branson make this happen, but he, in spectacular fashion brought all of us along with him and making sure that we could see and hear from him while it was happening.


one day filled with experiences. It's a complete experience of a lifetime. And now, I am looking down at our beautiful spaceport.

Congratulations to everybody for creating such a beautiful, beautiful place. Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic, the staff and engineers on the hard work to get us this far.


WHITFIELD: So, Branson's flight making him the first billionaire spacefaring to actually travel into suborbital space. His goal to make commercial space flights like this one available to the public

Once back on Earth, Branson had a message for the children who watched it all unfold.


BRANSON: I was once a kid with a dream, looking up to the stars. And now, I'm an adult in a spaceship looking back to our beautiful Earth. To the next generation of dreamers, if we can do this, just imagine what you can do.


WHITFIELD: Lots of talk about with these historic flights. CNN's space and defense correspondent, Kristine Fisher was there.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE AND DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: We now know -- I mean, this test flight, it certainly looked flawless, but we now know with the official confirmation from the Virgin Galactic team that it was indeed a textbook test flight.

This space plane, Spaceship 2, it returned in pristine condition, no issues whatsoever after taking off from Spaceport America in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico a little over three hours ago when it took off from this runway behind me attached to the belly of the mothership, Eve, and once it got to the proper altitude, it then dropped.

Those astronauts then experienced a few seconds of freefall before the pilots ignited the rocket engine and Spaceship 2 Unity blasted into space, a near vertical climb to the very edge of space.

We got official confirmation from the Virgin Galactic team that they reached an altitude of 53.5 miles that is just over the 50-mile threshold, which is what the U.S. recognizes as the boundary of space. But don't tell that to fellow billionaire space baron, Jeff Bezos, whose company takes you all the way up to the Karman line, which is just a little bit further and where his suborbital spacecraft is going to be going.

So, once the Virgin Galactic team and crew got to the edge of space, they got those few minutes of weightlessness. We could see them floating around, having some fun, some of them were taking notes. Richard Branson was writing down about some notes about the passenger experience, some things that he perhaps wanted to change for once they get paying customers on board.

And then we saw the descent, the re-entry into the Earth's atmosphere, a gentle corkscrew down before Spaceship 2 returned and landed beautifully on the very same runway that it took off from.

And then, moments later, Richard Branson standing on the stage behind me, spraying some champagne, getting his astronaut wings and trying to put some words together to describe the moment.


BRANSON: Like most kids, I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid. But honestly, nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space.

I mean, the whole thing was just magical, and suddenly, you're looking down, you're seeing three people looking up at you, and I'm saying, hang on, what are you doing down there?


BRANSON: We have this incredible Earth, anyway, I'm just taking it all in. It's just unreal.

I was so honored to test the customer experience. Initially, I thought testing the customer experience was a little bit of an excuse to get to get me on, it wasn't. It's so great to just get out there, test the customer experience, you get a list -- a list of things and it is those little details that matter.


FISHER: So, this was a big deal because it is the first time in history that somebody has built and funded a spaceship and then flown on it to the very edge of outer space.

WHITFIELD: All right, Kristin, thank you so much.

Now, I want to bring in former NASA Space Shuttle Program Manager and Flight Director, Wayne Hale.

So good to see you, Wayne, how exciting of a moment was this for you to witness today.

WAYNE HALE, FORMER NASA SPACE SHUTTLE PROGRAM MANAGER AND FLIGHT DIRECTOR: This was exciting, Fredricka. All of us that have been in the space business for years, are really excited about the opportunity for more people to travel into space, to see the Earth from above, and experience weightlessness and just kick off a great commercial program that will bring hopefully, hundreds of people to space in the future.

WHITFIELD: Well, it certainly was exciting for everybody to be able to watch on live television right here on CNN, and it has been described as perfect in real time. We heard that from members of the crew, and the ship looks perfect, they say.

So, does this mean that there won't be any tweaking before the next flight?

HALE: Well, you would expect that there might be some tweaking. They will, of course, go over the ship very carefully and make sure it looks structurally sound and do other kinds of inspections. And they'll have to reload the rocket engine, of course, before the next flight, but it certainly looked like a textbook flight without any significant problems that that they came up at all.

WHITFIELD: All right, this is what they said about this flight.


MIKE MOSES, PRESIDENT OF SPACE MISSION AND SAFETY, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Everything looks perfect in real time. We've looked at the data. We've done our quick engineering walk around. Normally, we take it in the hangar to do that, but the quick walk around and the ramp is perfect.

The ship looks pristine, no issues whatsoever. We obviously had some trouble with the transmission, we wanted to get the interior cameras live downlink to the ground, and they just kept cutting in and out. So, we think we have some antenna blockage that we can work on. But that's the only actual real issue that we're tracking right now on the ship.

As Richard said, we'll take our time to do all the detailed inspections, and then we'll figure out when we're ready to go again.


WHITFIELD: All right, in the grand scope of things, that's a pretty minor, little foible, isn't it? So, how does this kind of pave the way for what's next, as you know, more commercial flights are on their docket as early as 20 -- in the early portion of 2022, they are expecting to do this again, with more civilians on board.

HALE: Right, you know, I think everybody on this trip was actually an employee of the company. So they still haven't brought in paying customers yet. That'll happen soon. And I understand there are several hundred people have made deposits for flights on Richard Branson's Virgin Galactic vehicle.

Also, we have the New Shepard, Jeff Bezos's rocket ship coming up in just about nine days. So, we're seeing the start of a new commercial industry, a tourist industry to be sure, but a great way for people of more moderate means than billionaires to get a look at the planet from outer space.

WHITFIELD: So, this will be a very -- Jeff Bezos, his flight has to take place in about nine days from now, and it is a very different aircraft than what we saw today with Richard Branson. But what do you expect his day was like and taking notes about any kind of adjustments that he may have to make along the way. Even though they are very different, they share a similar dream? HALE: Well, they definitely share a similar dream. And I think all of

us that have pushed along in the space program for many years are excited about this dream coming true, privately financed, commercially available flights to space are just huge.

Whether or not Jeff Bezos makes any changes, I would doubt very much, came out today for him, because they are different systems. You know, this is a lot like the 1950s when you had the space race between the X-planes, X-15, and so forth, and then the rocket ships that turned into Mercury. So, you're either going to take off on a plane, or you're going to launch off a rocket from the ground.

So, they are differences, but with the same goal.

WHITFIELD: All right, hands down, very exciting day and exciting venture. Wayne Hale, good to see you. Thank you so much for being with us.

HALE: Thank you.


WHITFIELD: All right, coming up, as CNN goes one-on-one with Richard Branson just hours after he touched the ends of the Earth, our live interview just two minutes away.

Plus, former President Trump is expected to speak soon at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Texas. We'll take you there live, next.


WHITFIELD: All right, welcome back. Soon, former President Trump will close out the Conservative Political Action Conference or CPAC in Texas. Shortly after Trump wraps up, we'll also get a preview of this state of the 2024 presidential race when the results of a straw poll are released.

Trump's false claim about the election being stolen from him is already finding plenty of believers at this weekend's gathering of conservatives. We have a team of correspondents covering the conference for us.


WHITFIELD: Donie O'Sullivan is outside the event. CNN political correspondent, Sara Murray is inside. So, let's go to you first, Sara, what's happening?

SARA MURRAY, CNN POLITICAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, we've seen a number of speakers this weekend, but we haven't seen the kind of star power that I think we normally see at CPAC, right? We usually see the brightest stars of the Republican Party, and this is really, you know, a group of conservatives that is still enamored with former President Donald Trump. He has effectively frozen the Republican field, you know, the potential for the next presidential, because he hasn't announced whether or not he's going to run again.

You know, he's the big draw at this conference. He's going to speak here later on this afternoon. The biggest applause lines here so far this weekend have had to do with the notion that the election was stolen. They've had to do with the former President and the fact that he will be here. And of course, you know, you never know exactly what Donald Trump is going to say when he takes the stage.

But we know that he has been eager to run through these grievances again. The notion that the election was stolen, the notion that the election was rigged, even though as we all know, there was no evidence of widespread fraud.

I think he's going to relish being on this stage this afternoon, and being able to run through those grievances with a crowd that is clearly very friendly toward him and very excited to hear from him later today.

WHITFIELD: And Donie, you've been talking to a lot of people attending this gathering, what have they been telling you?

DONIE O'SULLIVAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey, Fred. Yes, I mean, what we've been hearing is that the big lie is alive and well here in Dallas. Pretty much everybody we've spoken to, bar one or two people believe that the election was stolen, and they also believe that the insurrection somehow was not -- that Trump supporters were not responsible for what happened on the insurrection on January 6.

A lot of folks that we are talking to here are also very hopeful that Trump is going to run again in 2024. We had heard from some people who were saying that he might come back, that in some way, this implausible notion that he could be reinstated over the summer. Folks that we've been speaking to are sort of -- or seem to be cooling on that idea and are looking more towards 2024.

And Fred, finally, one name that we keep hearing over and over and over again this weekend as a potential 2024 candidate as people they would like to see run is Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. We're hearing that name from a lot of people who are gathering outside CPAC here today.

There are people who didn't get tickets to get into the event, but many are gathering out here, hoping to get a glimpse of Trump as his motorcade enters this complex.

WHITFIELD: Donie O'Sullivan and Sara Murray, thank you so much from Dallas, keep us posted. Appreciate it.

Let's talk more about all this now with David Swerdlick, he is a CNN political commentator and an assistant editor for "The Washington Post." David, so good to see you.


WHITFIELD: Okay, so is this the possible comeback moment for the former President at CPAC today? SWERDLICK: I think President Trump likes to keep his name out there,

and this is friendly territory. This morning, I went back and looked at his February CPAC speech, and he did his usual greatest hits. It had a high word to content ratio, and he spoke a lot, classic Trump.

Two issues jumped out at me from that speech. One was immigration, one was perpetuating the big lie. And as Sara and Donie just said, I think, you're going to hear both of those issues in there as well as some references to critical race theory, which is sort of the Republicans or the political right's new Boogeyman.

You might also hear the name Ashli Babbitt, the Air Force veteran who was shot and killed during the Capitol riot. The President -- the former President mentioned her name in an interview on another network today and it got a lot of notice on social media.

This is what President Trump does well frankly. He entertains, he riles up his base. He is not making a policy-based pitch, nor is the Republican Party, nor is frankly the conservative movement at this point. So, this is all aligning. CPAC is right where he probably wants to be to stay in the political discussion.

WHITFIELD: But a lot has changed since February and that straw poll that you know, Trump won as you're referring to at CPAC in Florida. From the economy, it has taken quite the swing to many more Americans who are vaccinated, to businesses opened up.

So, there are some other potential, you know, candidates who might give him a run for his money. Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is one of them. How and why?

SWERDLICK: Yes. So, Governor DeSantis has a couple of built-in advantages. His re-election for governors in 2022. So after that, if he wins, he will be free and clear to concentrate on a 2024 presidential run. He is young. He is in his early to mid-40s, and he balances that sort of -- he comes across as a regular guy, Fred, but he has still got that Harvard Law pedigree.

I think what Governor DeSantis is going to be doing for the next two to four years is trying to calibrate how much he hugs Trump. He is seen as a pro-Trump guy, but how much he also keeps Trump at arm's length so that he can, if he runs in 2024 get those suburban white voters with college degrees back into the Republican column. That's who abandoned Republicans that gave President Biden that big edge in 2020.


WHITFIELD: So, we heard Donie talk about how the conservatives attending the CPAC Conference still believe false claims about widespread voter fraud, you know, costing Trump the election, but many top G.O.P. leaders are also touting the big lie at this gathering. So, Trump is not alone. I mean, take a listen.


every election since the beginning of time, including in America, and we ought to all agree -- Democrats and Republicans -- that nobody should vote who is not legally allowed to vote and unfortunately, in the last presidential election, because they didn't check those signatures, we had massive amounts of fraud.

These are facts, and they're undisputable.


WHITFIELD: But they can be disputed. There are no -- I mean, the facts are there was not massive voter fraud. So, why? I mean, what's the reason behind why this continues to be, I guess, the leading mantra for those in the G.O.P.? I mean, why is this effective? And how are they seeing that this is effective?

SWERDLICK: Right. So first of all, that was a red herring there by Matt Schlapp. Everyone does agree that people who can't legally vote shouldn't vote. What the Republican Party and people on the political right have tried to do in recent years is to make it harder to vote in various jurisdictions across the country, not to make it more legal or less legal to vote.

In terms of why this is a situation that riles up Republicans, it is this I think, Fred. I covered CPAC in person from 2011 through 2014. And at that time, you could still say it was this robust discussion between sort of Chamber of Commerce Mitt Romney Republicans and wannabe libertarian, Rand Paul Republicans and more of the revanchist Trump Republicans.

Well, the revanchist Trump Republicans won the argument among Republicans, and now they control the party. And now CPAC isn't this robust exchange of ideas and just trying to decide where the party should go, it is a wholly owned subsidiary of the Trump movement, and that's why you see the big lie being perpetuated because that's what President Trump wants to perpetuate.

WHITFIELD: All right, David Swerdlick, we'll leave it there for now. Thank you so much. Good to see you.

SWERDLICK: Thanks, Fred.

WHITFIELD: All right, Richard Branson, blasting into suborbital space in his own rocket. The billionaire also has a long history of being a daredevil, a risk taker, thrill seeker, if you will. We will talk about how he has cheated death several times.



WHITFIELD: All right, billionaire Richard Branson achieved one of his lifelong dreams this morning becoming the first person, the first billionaire to take a trip to the edge of space aboard a rocket he helped fund. Branson and his crew are now back on Earth making a smooth landing in the New Mexico desert.

From lift off to landing, the trip lasted about an hour. But the short trip may usher in a new era in private space travel. That's his objective. Branson says the experience was much better than anything he could have imagined.


BRANSON: The last week, I've had my notebook with me and I've written down, you know, 30 or 40 little things that will make the next experience for the next person who goes to space for this that much better.

And the only way sometimes you can find these little things is to get in a spaceship and go to space and experience it. But having said that, 99.99 percent was beyond my wildest dreams.


WHITFIELD: All right, joining me right now to discuss is Victoria Cavaliere, a business news editor at "Insider." Victoria, so good to see you. Okay, so, you know, it's really something else to hear from Richard Branson himself, to see him, how he rides his bike, you know, in order to begin his journey, how relaxed, but at the same time, really how out there he is about all these extraordinary things.

What were your thoughts about how he approached this entire venture?

VICTORIA CAVALIERE, BUSINESS NEWS EDITOR, "INSIDER": Well, he approached it in his typical sort of flamboyant showman fashion. It was absolutely the culmination of a dream for him. He's been talking about getting to space for many, many years. I don't think many of us ever doubted that he actually would.

WHITFIELD: Yes. And there he is riding his bike before getting on board, his spacecraft or aircraft. And you know, he said it was really indescribable when asked about what he saw. He talked about the beauty, you know, of space and looking at Earth, but then he also seemed like he was at a loss of words, beyond the fact that his body was probably trying to, you know, readjust to being back on Earth.

You know, do you think that this might be one of his most extraordinary, you know, ventures? I mean, he's done a lot. We've seen him in a lot of different venues doing extraordinary things.

CAVALIERE: He has done a lot. I mean, two attempts at crossing around the world in hot air balloons. He ran the London Marathon in a butterfly costume, which I assume cannot be easy. He's a kite boarder. He's a surfer.

He has, you know, dressed in wedding gowns. He has driven a tank down Fifth Avenue in New York City. But I do have --


WHITFIELD: He has attempted diving in like, you know, the Earth's five oceans. I mean, he is unstoppable.

CAVALIERE: The list goes on and on and on, but I have to say that I think that reaching the edges face today might have been the cherry on top of an incredible career and an incredible life of adventure, frankly.

WHITFIELD: Wow. We see him in the English Channel, I mean, kind of a James Bond moment there. We saw him -- a tank in Times Square. But, you know, he was asked during that press conference, what's next? And he said, well, you know what?

You know, I do expect to spend the next 30 years still appreciating, you know, the rain forests and focusing on climate change, but he doesn't want to put his family through anything more right now, perhaps this is him saying, I'm going to give it a little bit of a rest. But it doesn't mean his venture is over because these kinds of spaceflights with civilians, it could happen as early as 2022.

CAVALIERE: That's right. Yes, and I think today, he sort of sent the message that it's safe, and it is happening. He said he didn't really have any big adventures planned for the rest of his life. We'll see if he can hold to that. I wouldn't be surprised if he accompanied you know, a friend like Elon Musk on a trip up to space if he should ever want to take it again.

But for now, I think that he has really, really reached the culmination of a dream both with the company, Virgin Galactic, and also personally and so maybe he is happy to sit back and just enjoy it.

WHITFIELD: Well, let's find out from the man himself, Victoria Cavaliere, Richard Branson is with our business innovation and space correspondent, Rachel Crane right now. Let's listen.

RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATIONS AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: Fred, the world has a few new astronauts and I happen to be standing with two of them: Sirisha Bandla and Sir Richard Branson, himself.

Now Richard, you just fulfilled a lifelong dream, and I know you said earlier that you couldn't find the words to describe it. But you've now been back on Earth for a couple of hours. So, tell us, what was this experience like for you?

BRANSON: Look, I've dreamt of going to space since I was a kid. I've always pictured what it would be like, and it was just far more extraordinary than I could have ever imagined.

From the -- from going naught to 3,000 miles an hour in seven or eight seconds, being pressed back into the seat, the roar of the rocket to arriving in space. And the silence. And you know, to looking out of the window, seeing our glorious, glorious -- the colors of the sky to unbuckling and floating, just literally lifting, just going off to the ceiling and floating.

Looking back down on these big windows that now the spaceship is upside down facing back down to the Earth, seeing these three float around underneath me like giant fish. Get out of my way, I want to see the Earth.

And then of course, you know, when we came back into the Earth's atmosphere, the shuddering as the spaceship comes back in. Anyway, we just had a pretty extraordinary day.

CRANE: Congratulations, you guys, again, but it had to have been surreal for both of you.

BRANSON: It was -- I still sort of feel in my whole life, I have just been so fortunate. And these sort of -- I'm going to wake up tomorrow morning, and I'd find out that I was dreaming. I mean, it was just like the most incredible dream, and just -- we're all just so lucky -- so lucky to have been able to participate in it. And this one and the other, the rest of the team are just brilliant.

This is Sirisha.

SIRISHA BANDLA, VICE PRESIDENT OF GOVERNMENT AFFAIRS AND RESEARCH, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Yes. Absolutely. And I think that's actually part of it, the team and Beth Moses, our Chief Astronaut Instructor has prepared us so well. And it's not only just training and operations and emergency procedures, it's preparing for the experience.

So, when I was sitting in the spaceship, I knew it was real. I knew exactly what to expect and I could focus on the views and the experience and it was just incredible.

BRANSON: And she was working as a scientist doing experiments as well.


CRANE: Now, Richard, you have long spoken about the overview effect, anyone who has gone to space often refers to the overview effect, how it fundamentally changes them and they become, you know, a steward of Earth. Did you experience that?

BRANSON: It sort of capped it out -- capped it off for me. I mean, I will now spend and I promise I will now spend the next -- I'm an optimist -- the next 30 years of my life, you know doing everything I can to protect the species on this beautiful Earth, to you know, work on climate change issues, to work on trying to stop the degradation of our rain forests, to you know, just all the things that are going the wrong way just to do everything we can to make them go the right way.

And I think the same applies to everybody else on the flight.


BANDLA: Yes, I mean, you look out the window and there is nothing -- nothing -- and then like our planet. There's nothing else around it. And it's just your like, that is what is keeping us alive. And it's just so beautiful. And everything from the blackness contrast with the Earth is just deafening. It is incredible.

CRANE: And now that you've both have had a taste of space, are you eager to go back up? BRANSON: I would go back tomorrow if I didn't feel I was taking a seat

away from the many hundreds of people who have already signed to go up and the many hundreds of people who will want to sign up.

And you know, we've also just launched this, this amazing, I think, raffle today so that anybody in the world could have a chance to go up. And I just hope that, you know, just somebody who would never dream of being able to go into space wins that raffle, and they can also bring a friend. They can come to the space factory. I will give them a view of the space factory. Maybe we'll have some chocolates as well.

CRANE: There's chocolates.

BRANSON: But yes, we'll just give them a magical experience.

CRANE: Now, Sirisha, when people think of Virgin Galactic, they're thinking of, you know, giving people new astronaut wings like the ones you guys have on your spacesuits. They often don't realize that there's also a research component to that. That's what your focus was on today's mission. Can you tell us a little bit about the research that you conducted? And was it difficult to conduct this research on this, you know, rather short suborbital journey?

BANDLA: Yes, absolutely. So, it was not difficult. Actually, it was an excellent ride. So, I was able to actually -- all three of the tubes, I had that were carrying plants. But this is a capability that you can't parallel with anything on Earth. You get minutes of microgravity that just doesn't exist on any vehicle down on Earth.

So, I've had a lot of researchers from biologists, astrophysicist, a lot of folks want to use our vehicle to study the atmosphere on Earth, because it's an area -- we go through an area that we don't have a lot of data on, because not a lot of vehicles can actually pass through that area frequently.

So, I've had a lot of atmospheric scientists want to use the vehicle to study Earth, and it's been incredible. And yes, I learned a lot. I will have a lot of lessons to share with our future researchers, and they're chomping at the bit to get up there.

CRANE: Now, Richard, your objective on this spaceflight was to evaluate the astronaut experience, we know that you said you had a few notes that you wanted, that you took that 99.9 percent of the journey was just perfect. But can you share a little bit about, you know, those slight tweaks that you'd like to make?

BRANSON: There's always, for any new company, there's lots of things that need improving. For instance, you know, we would be putting everything in our pockets, and if we had to get to the water, it would be in a pocket. So, we need something on the wall, like you have in an airplane.

I mean, it's just -- there's a numerous list and I do that with every Virgin company that we started, whether it was Virgin Atlantic, I'll spend the first year you know, flying on it, talking to our staff, talking to our customers, making lists, making sure we deal with them.

But fortunately, it's just lots of little things. And, you know, that by the time the next group of people come, that list, hopefully will get shorter and shorter and shorter. And that's -- you know, that's what happens with a new company.

CRANE: One final question for you, Richard. You know, social media was aflutter with, let's say, let's describe it as a competitive spirit between you and Jeff Bezos and Blue Origin.

Jeff Bezos, though, just posting congratulatory notes saying that he can't wait to join you, or experience it as well. You have any advice for him and the Blue Origin crew?

CRANE: Well, look obviously wishing the most wonderful voyage, and I hope you can have as wonderful a voyage as we had and just do your training. You know, I mean, it's important to get that sort of, you know, seven days of training before you go.

And you know, if you know what to expect, you can just sit back and have the ride of a lifetime, and I'm sure that all of them who are on that spaceship will do that.

CRANE: Well, thank you guys so much. Richard. I hope to one day get my astronaut wings like and Sirisha. Thank you, guys again.

And once again, congratulations to our two new astronauts -- Fred.

WHITFIELD: Oh, yes, Rachel, one more question for both Sirisha and Richard. Okay, was it all exhilaration or were you ever scared? Was there ever a moment where you were afraid?

CRANE: All right, so Fred has one question for you as well. Was it all exhilaration? Or was there ever a moment where you felt a little nervous? Did you ever even get scared?


BRANSON: You know I didn't get scared because I'd been trained so well. I knew what to expect when, you know when there are very loud sounds that take place, you know the roar of the engine. The shuttering as you come back into the Earth's atmosphere, but we trained for it.

And so yes, so I was ready to -- ready and just enjoying every minute of it. Let's be honest.

CRANE: Well, certainly seems like you did. Fred, there you have it. You heard from the astronauts themselves.

WHITFIELD: All right, no fear.

CRANE: And I don't know about you, but I'm pretty jealous. I'd love to get up there one day.

WHITFIELD: It might just happen. You've got close friends in good places right now.

All right, Rachel Crane, Richard, Sirisha, thank you so much to all of you. Fantastic.

We'll be right back.



WHITFIELD: The heatwave engulfing the western U.S. refuses to let up, tens of millions of people are under extreme heat warnings and we could see more record high temperatures today. Meteorologist, Tom Sater is with us in the CNN Weather Center -- Tom.

TOM SATER, CNN METEOROLOGIST: Fredricka, it's great to celebrate, you know, the advances in science and technology getting to the edge of space, but can we all agree, let's find a way to make it rain out West, it will help cool things down. And already now, reservoirs are getting down to historic low numbers.

So again, a lot of rainfall in the southern plains in the southeast. But out west, you've got the heat advisory. For the fifth time in history, Death Valley hit 130 degrees. It was just a week and a half ago, we had the heat dome in Western Canada and the Pacific Northwest. So, these numbers really just do not lie. And again, triple digits 117 in Las Vegas, an all-time record for them.

What we also have is 117, that was in St. George, Utah. That is an all-time state record.

There will be some relief, but look -- these daily records. But I want to point out the years that they were set. They're all in the last 20 years. So again, climate change has got its fingerprints all over this and just take a look at what you have in Las Vegas just for the month of July, June wasn't much better. It's just stifling when you're in the triple digits this long.

Summer leave comes in the middle of the week, but it's not by much. Sure. You know, 107 is better than 112, but you're not going to notice a big difference here. It's going to take a little bit longer. I think nighttime lows are more important. In fact, when you can get down below 85. That's great. And we have that more toward the coastline, but inland, it has continued to be stifling.

Here comes the relief in the colors are blue. So again, by the middle of the week, there will be some help, but again, now that heat dome seems to build in Central Canada and the northern tier states.

Las Vegas, you can come close to again another record today in 116 degrees. But the stretch of just this incredible, stifling weather continues. Red flag warnings and the Bootleg Fire in Oregon has caused problems getting power supplies to California, about 5,500 megawatts have been cancelled there.

And you can see here in blue, these are the reservoir numbers, not only below 50 percent, but Fredricka, in many cases below 30. Every day we have this kind of heat, we lose millions and millions of gallons just due to evaporation in the reservoirs. We need rain desperately out West.

WHITFIELD: We certainly do. Stifling is definitely the right word. Tom Sater, thanks so much. Appreciate that.

All right, still ahead. Excitement gets out of control, why some Euro 2020 fans are getting rowdy.




WHITFIELD: All right, so that was the scene at London's Wembley Stadium earlier. Droves of rowdy fans without tickets trying to storm into the arena before match play where England and Italy are currently playing the Euro 2020 Soccer Final.

The sports-governing body was quick to condemn the incident saying there is no place for such unacceptable behavior. Meantime, on the field once, you know, game got underway and it's still going, England is up, one nil at halftime.

All right, the new CNN original series, "The History of the Sitcom" premieres tonight with back to back episodes. CNN's Stephanie Elam is on the Warner Brothers studio backlot in Burbank.

Now, you're inside a familiar territory for those who couldn't wait to see another episode of "Friends" back-to-back

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Oh, that is exactly it, Fred. You're right. I am where Gunther would be standing. Little known fact, Guthrie's hair wasn't supposed to be that blonde, but his friend did it the night before, and then he had to do it for 10 years. He was tying his hair every night.

But yes, I am in Central Perk from "Friends." Take a look at this. This is the actual set -- the actual set that they used for the show, and you can see all the wear and tear of all the love, of all the shooting that they did here.

And now, you have the ability, when you come to the Warner Brothers Studio tour here to actually come and get your picture taken here. In fact, Mike, if you can go ahead and show all the people over here. Look, there's people waiting in line. Are you guys excited? Big "Friends" fans over here. Yes.

And so they are all here ready to take their picture. This is Raquel, who like me is also from Northern California. What's your favorite part about "Friends"? Why do you love "Friends" so much?

RAQUEL: I think I love "Friends" because it shows what friendship really means, and friendship is something I really struggle with. And watching "Friends" just really made me realize that the people who choose to be in your life will be there for you no matter what.

ELAM: No matter what and you were not around. You're too young to have been around when "Friends" was around. So "Friends" is having this Renaissance. And so now, you have young people who are coming in here. Thank you, Raquel, enjoy your "Central Perk." I hope it's tasty. I didn't make it, if it's bad.

But this is where you can come and see folks who were enjoying it maybe when they were in their 20s and people who are now in their 20s are still enjoying it. I want to show you one thing, Fred, before we walk away, because -- I'm going to walk up here on this step just to show you a little TV magic -- as you look through this door, it looks like I'm going outside. I'm just going to go out on this New York street here.

WHITFIELD: I like it.

ELAM: It's actually just a big piece of tarp that moves around.

WHITFIELD: Good rendering.

ELAM: So, very good. I'm not in New York City, Fred, but still all of this just to remind you of all the magic. You can come be a part of this tour as we get ready for "History of Sitcom" which is premiering tonight on CNN, 9:00 p.m. Eastern, six o'clock if you're here in California like we are -- Fred.


WHITFIELD: Oh, that's fantastic. Okay, and everyone had a favorite or two, or continues to have a favorite or two sitcoms. So, of course we'll all be watching again tonight.

Stephanie Elam, thanks for taking us to the "Friends" set. That was fun.

All right, don't miss the premiere of "The History of the Sitcom" tonight. Back-to-back episodes airing at nine and 10 Eastern and Pacific right here on CNN.

Thank you so much for being with us today. I'm Fredricka Whitfield. The CNN NEWSROOM continues with Jim Acosta in a moment.