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Branson Safely Lands After Touching Edge Of Space; Branson Holds Press Conference After Successful Space Flight. Aired 1-2p ET

Aired July 11, 2021 - 13:00   ET




UNIDENTIFIED MALE (voice-over): This is CNN breaking news.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN HOST: Hello, everyone. Thank you so much for joining me this Sunday. I'm Fredricka Whitfield.

One small step for a man, one massive leap for the future of space travel as we know it. Richard Branson going where no billionaire has gone before. Virgin Galactic's supersonic space plane, VSS Unity, taking off. CNN's Rachel Crane reporting on the breathtaking moment when the supersonic space plane separated from the mother ship, Eve.


RACHEL CRANE, CNN BUSINESS INNOVATION AND SPACE CORRESPONDENT: You can hear the crowd cheering behind me. This is that historic moment that Richard Branson and his team at Virgin Galactic have been waiting for for nearly two decades. 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. Ah, I've got to pause. I've got to take this in. This is really an incredible moment here.


WHITFIELD: We all took it in. In this hour-long journey and a few minutes of weightlessness, the journey, the mission 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 we could see and hear from him while it was happening.


RICHARD BRANSON, CHAIRMAN, VIRGIN AMERICA: (INAUDIBLE) one day you'll get to experience it. It's a complete experience of a lifetime. Now I'm looking down. (INAUDIBLE). Congratulations to everybody for creating such a beautiful, beautiful place.

Congratulations to all of our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic, 17 years of hard, hard work (INAUDIBLE).


WHITFIELD: Extraordinary or what?

Branson's flight making him the first billionaire to actually travel into suborbital space. Branson's goal: to make commercial space flights like this one available to the public. That could be coming very soon.

Branson and his team landed back on Earth a short time ago. Now we are waiting for a press conference. This is set to begin at any moment now. We'll bring that to you live as it happens. Let's talk about all that we witnessed. Here with us, CNN space and defense correspondent Kristin Fisher and CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien.

Good to see both of you. I know this was incredibly exciting to listen to your analysis along the way.

Kristin Fisher, to you first. Let's talk about what is expected from Branson now that we have seen this play-by-play all morning long and now this press conference at any moment.

KRISTIN FISHER, CNN SPACE & DEFENSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, he's going to be fielding a ton of questions from reporters, who want to pepper him with a bit more detail than what we got during the speech that he just gave moments ago.

What a successful and exciting day here at Spaceport America. This is a big deal. It's the first time in the history of the world that somebody has built a spacecraft and then flown it into space.

It all started a little over two hours ago, when Sir Richard Branson and two pilots and three other mission specialists took off on Spaceship 2 Unity, attached to the belly of the mother ship, Eve, named after Richard Branson's own mom.

They flew for about 50 minutes to proper altitude, at which point, the mother ship released Spaceship 2. It freefell for a few seconds until the pilots took control. This one is piloted by actual pilots. Those pilots threw on the rocket engines. The astronauts experienced that feeling of Gs as they accelerated up into space.


FISHER: Then at the very top, they reached the very edge of space and experienced those precious few minutes of weightlessness, which is when Sir Richard Branson achieved his lifelong dream of becoming an astronaut.

Two other mission specialists also became astronauts as well. The other three crew members had already flown to the edge of space. Then we saw that flawless descent. Virgin Galactic had an accident back in 2014 because the feathering system was deployed too early. It led to the death of one of the test pilots.

Virgin Galactic changed the spacecraft to prevent that from happening again. It worked by, from what we can tell up to this point, absolutely perfectly. They glided back to the very same runway where they took off from, at Spaceport America in the aptly named Truth and Consequences, New Mexico.

Then we saw this big victory celebration, Richard Branson running out, hugging his family, hugging his grandchildren. He came out on stage and admitted, my gosh, I just went to space, didn't know what to say, didn't quite have the words.

You hear that from people who see planet Earth from space for the very first time. He did give us a bit more detail about what he was thinking and feeling. Listen to this.


BRANSON: Like most kids, I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid. But nothing can prepare you for the view of Earth from space. The whole thing was magical. You're looking down and seeing three people looking up at you.

What are you doing down there?


BRANSON: We have this incredible Earth. Anyway, I'm just taking it all in. It was 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 me on. It wasn't. It was so great to get out there and test the customer experience. You get lists of little things. And it's the details that matter.


FISHER: Now we wait for Sir Richard Branson's press conference. This successful flight paves the way for the company to begin commercial operations in early 2022. They already received their authorization and approval from the FAA.

Two more test flights are scheduled. Then those 600 to 700 customers that put down a deposit, they'll begin flying those customers early next year. But wait, the fun on the commercial space side is just beginning, Fredricka.

In just nine days, Jeff Bezos will fly into space on his suborbital spacecraft, the Shepard spacecraft. There's been so much made of this rivalry between Branson and Bezos.

Moments ago, Bezos posted on Instagram, "Richard Branson and crew, congratulations on the flight. Can't wait to join the club."

Hopefully that will happen on July 20th.

WHITFIELD: Just nine days from now.

Miles, they are competitors, Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and SpaceX's Elon Musk. They're in a special fraternity to do what it is they're doing. You have to envision that Bezos is taking notes. We know Elon Musk was there to witness it in person. He's taking notes about what just transpired today.

This was grand. It's not just about Richard Branson and his mission specialists and pilots. He is paving the way. That's his dream, his hope, that commercial industry of space or exploration or suborbital space travel is right around the corner for people who have the deep pockets for a ticket.

MILES O'BRIEN, CNN AVIATION ANALYST: Yes, the idea is space for the rest of us. I'm reading the tweets. A lot of people are upset. The climate is in a bad way, the Earth is in a bad way. These billionaires are spending all this money, going to space.

I don't see it as a mutually exclusive thing, to fix our planet and save ourselves and also to extend into the frontier of space. The frontier of space affords us opportunities to help our planet.

Number one, it gives us a chance to remind all of ourselves that we live on this fragile little spaceship we call Earth. It also gives us the opportunity to get sensors into orbit, to give us a better idea what's going on with climate change.


O'BRIEN: And down the road, Fredricka, we can put solar arrays in space and beam that power back to the planet. We can get resources from asteroids and then ultimately, the idea that the human experience might end someday when our sun dries up and implodes, we want to think about being a multiplanet species.

So all these things are part of a bigger picture and I don't think it's a mutually exclusive thing. We have to think about protecting our home but not to the exclusion of looking outside of it.

WHITFIELD: We'll talk about this a little bit as we await the first press conference, even though we have heard from Richard Branson in a few different ways.

Kristin Fisher, Miles O'Brien, sit tight. We'll get back to you.

Our special live coverage continues in a moment. First, let's listen to what Richard Branson said about space back in 1988. He's been thinking about this a long time.




UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Have you ever thought about going into space, Richard?

BRANSON: I'd love to go into space, as I think pretty much everyone watching this show would love to go into space, when you see those magnificent pictures of space and incredible views, I think there could be nothing nicer.

So if you're building a spacecraft, I'd love to come with you on it.






BRANSON: So just imagine, a world where people of all ages, all backgrounds, from anywhere of any gender of any ethnicity have equal access to space. And they would in turn inspire us back here on Earth. If you ever had a dream, now is the time to make it come true.


WHITFIELD: That is Richard Branson, celebrating his historic first trip to the edge of space and encouraging others to join his dream of space travel. The billionaire and his crew are now back on Earth, making a smooth landing in the New Mexico desert there.

From liftoff to landing, the trip lasted about an hour but the short trip may usher in a new era in space travel. After all, that is his plan and that of others. Our guests are back with us, CNN space correspondent Kristin Fisher and CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien.

Let's talk about how he got here.


WHITFIELD: Miles, he talked there about he's hoping he's an inspiration to people everywhere about what it is to dream. He's been dreaming about this since he was 18. This has been something in the making for a very long time. Lots of folks along the way thought it was a pipe dream. But he made it happen.

O'BRIEN: It's interesting; when you look at the billionaires who put themselves in the space realm, they all grew up in the Apollo era of moon dust. All of us thought we would have had an encampment or an outpost on Mars by now.

When these guys who have the money to do something about it realized NASA was never going to do it, the way they were headed, they put their money on the table.

Everyone says, these billionaires, who cares what they do?

No one else would be doing this except for these people who are risk takers, have a lot of money and have this passion and vision within them.

If you consider, Fred, going back to 2004 when Spaceship 1, Scaled Composites and Burt Rutan won the XPRIZE, Sir Richard came in and bought the technology and said, we're going to be doing this within five years.

We all thought five years, that would be fun. Of course, it's been 17 years. If nothing else, there's a lesson of coming up with a dream, staying focused on it and having the perseverance to see it through.

There have been times, including when people lost their lives, when he could have easily abandoned this. There is a lesson that is worth sharing with everyone, including young people.

WHITFIELD: Of course. You talk about lives, great risk. Even with the first test flight with Virgin Galactic, it was a tragic loss there, all of us this coming with great risk.

Kristin, talk to us, too, about why this is so much more accessible today, with costs dropping and it has to be privately funded. NASA and the federal government would never be able to fund this kind of potential of commercialization for anyone to one day take flight like this.

FISHER: This is a business. Virgin Galactic is a publicly-traded company and they're in the business of selling seats on Spaceship 2 to take wealthy passengers on a joyride into the very fringes of outer space.

To go back to what you were talking about, lowering the cost, making space flight more accessible, that is something that really Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos have been working very hard to do, by doing something that governments tried and failed to do, the reusable rocket.

When they did that, that is really when the cost of what it takes to send people and payloads into space really begins to come down. That was truly a transformative moment in the commercial space flight industry.

Elon Musk was with Richard Branson this morning before he ever got to Spaceport America to cheer his fellow billionaire space baron on. Jeff Bezos tweeting congratulations just moments ago. Despite their rivalry, all three have done so much over the last three years to make space flight more accessible but also more exciting.

One small example, look at the design of these spacecraft. They're sleek, they look so futuristic and cool, different from the space shuttle, which looked like it was built and stuck in the '80s, which it was.

What these billionaires have done over the last few years for the space industry, really quite remarkable. Really, to see this successful test flight today, a very exciting moment for Branson and his entire team.

WHITFIELD: We're looking at the interior now of that Virgin Galactic. It is out of this world. You talk about the rivalry of these three, Jeff Bezos, Elon Musk and Richard Branson. All three are different approaches. What we'll see in nine days is very different from what we'll see


Are you able to make distinctions about the aircraft, the teams they've employed and how they've all gotten here?


FISHER: Absolutely. So what we saw today was a supersonic space plane, very similar to the space shuttle in the sense that it has wings and it is not automated. It is analog. It's controlled by pilots who are responsible for igniting the rocket engine and turning it off. The test pilots love it because they're actually flying it. It's fun to fly.


WHITFIELD: Kristin, I'm going to interrupt you because Sir Richard Branson stepping up to the podium, taking a seat for the start of this press conference. Let's listen in.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: And with that, I think, Richard, we'll let you guys take it.

BRANSON: Thank you.

Thanks, Michael, thanks everybody, the whole team. First of all, it's absolutely fantastic to see all you kids here. I wish we could have had thousands of kids here.


BRANSON: But hopefully, kids all over the world saw it. When I was in space, I scribbled a couple of words on my grandkids' drawings, which you people will be able to hear. I hear it didn't actually come back to Earth.

Basically it said, "For all you kids down there, 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."

I look forward to you all following your dreams and doing wonderful things, maybe not quite building spaceships but something even more special one day. To all kids out there, best with it.

So this is meant to be a press conference. I won't talk too long and also a kids' conference. If any kids or press have questions to ask us, we'd be delighted to answer. I'll leave you to do the comparing.

Thank you, Ilana.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thank you, Richard. First question down in the front. Irene, you were out of the starting blocks. Hang on a moment. You can

have my mike.

QUESTION: Thanks so much. Congratulations to all of you.

What is the condition of the spaceship upon return?

Is there anything that needs to be addressed before it flies again?

From your hour, two hours that you've had to distill, is there anything that you would want to do different for customer experiences?


BRANSON: Hello, I'll start with the second part of that question. I've started many entrepreneurial things in my lifetime, whether it's airlines or cruise lines or train companies. Every time we start a new company, I will immerse myself and experience it.

I will have a notebook -- this is something you kids should think about. I'll have a notebook. The last week I've had my notebook with me. I've written down 30 or 40 little things that will make the next experience for the next person who goes to space with us that much better.

The only way you can find these little things is get into a spaceship and go to space and experience it. Having said that, 99.99 percent was beyond my wildest dreams. It's impossible to describe.

Well, I should try. What it's like going from 0 to 3 Mach in seven or eight seconds, then as you go into space, the views are breathtaking. There's no question we are so lucky to have this planet that we all live on. And that's what Virgin Orbit, our other space company, that had a tremendous success last week.


BRANSON: And Virgin Galactic, we've got to all be doing everything we can to help this incredible planet we live on. I will devote the rest of my life doing that. And I think other people who go to space with us will devote the rest of their lives doing that.

There are so many young engineers who worked at Virgin Orbit and worked at Virgin Galactic, some of them very young, some who got full- time jobs. The 17 years creating this has created so many engineers and new jobs.

That's the other wonderful, exciting thing about this. It's too soon to -- before they do the next flight, they'll obviously examine the craft in meticulous detail. But there was nothing -- I think Dave Mackay can answer that question.

MICHAEL MOSES, PRESIDENT, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Yes, actually, I can take that one. I'm Mike Moses, president of space missions so I can take that one. Everything looked perfect in real time. We've looked at the data, done

our quick engineering walkaround. Normally we take it in the hangar. A quick walkaround on the ramp, it's perfect. The ship looks pristine. No issues whatsoever.

We obviously had some trouble with the transmission. We wanted to get the interior cameras live down to the ground. They kept cutting in and out. So we think we have antenna blockage that we can work on. But that's the only real issue that we're tracking right now on the ship.

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

BRANSON: Yes, the nice thing about -- everything was filmed on board and that we'll be able to put out later today. So it wasn't as if we lost anything. If people want to see more, I'm sure our team will be offering it.

I definitely want to see the tapes. It's so strange. I said my words back to kids down here, unbuckled. And the next minute I see three people floating below me. Just look out of the window -- it's just -- I'm never going to be able to do it justice. It's indescribably beautiful. Yes, anyway.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thanks, Richard. I think we have a question at the back here.

QUESTION: Just a quick question. You exude such confidence.

Is there even just a small part of you feeling perhaps an intense relief that it all went to plan today?

BRANSON: Look, we have nearly 1,000 of the best engineers in the world, including Sirisha -- you're some astrophysic (sic) -- these are astounding --



BRANSON: Anyway, I mean, I left school at 15. So being with all these people. Look, obviously, every flight, people are learning more and more for the next flight. The only thing I was worried about was some tiny little something that would get in the way, stop us going into space because of something tiny.

Now after 17 years, the team is so meticulous, X-raying every single bit of the craft, that I have no concerns on that hand. But anyway, we're celebrating yet another incredibly successful flight into space today. Thank you.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great. I am just going to go over here and then I promise I'm coming back here. Let me give you a mike over. QUESTION: What did you see from space?

BRANSON: What you see from space is this wonderful dark sky and then this incredible blue. We've got these incredible windows. And Dave and Sooch, they turn the spaceship upside down. So when you're floating, you're looking out of these giant windows back at this beautiful, beautiful sky.


BRANSON: Beautiful Earth back down here. And it is indescribable. It's up to us to make space available, so many of you, when you grow up, are able to go there.

We launched a raffle today to enable people to go into space. You may think, as kids, why should I join in a raffle? If you can persuade your parents or grandparents to give you a raffle ticket, if you win, then you and a friend will be able to go to space.

It's an exciting, I think, opportunity for people around the world, which has never existed before.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think -- I was going to say, I know, Colin, you wanted to share what you saw. I think I saw you floating at one point in the camera.

COLIN BENNETT, LEAD OPERATIONS ENGINEER, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Yes. I was very busy for the first part of the flight in space. I had some checks to get done, so I was kind of in my zone doing that.

Then I remember hearing Beth shouting, "Don't forget to look out the window, don't forget to look out the window."

So very -- yes, so I looked out the window. The view is just stunning and is very zen, very peaceful up there as well. What jumped out at me were the colors and just how far away it looked. It felt like we were so far up there. I was just mesmerized for a good 30-40 seconds. It was amazing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Beth, I can't help but ask this because this is your second time in the cabin.

How was it the second time?

BETH MOSES, CHIEF ASTRONAUT INSTRUCTOR, VIRGIN GALACTIC: Truly phenomenal. It was truly phenomenal the second time. I would say it was more majestic, more beautiful and, of course, shared with more souls, all of you. So I couldn't be more pleased or proud of everything.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Amazing. I'll give a question down here.

QUESTION: Thank you. I've got two questions, Sir Richard.

First off, you've conquered land, conquered sea, conquered air, now you've conquered space. What next?

I couldn't help but notice you landed before the big game in the U.K., England in the final.

Will you be watching the game?

How will you relax now?

BRANSON: I have a feeling that -- sorry.

What was your first one?


BRANSON: What next?

I'll do the second one first. I think everybody who is Italian or from the U.K. will be watching. You're very welcome if you're not Italian or U.K. to watch it. We've got big screens up everywhere.

The what next, as I said earlier, I'm an optimist. The next 30 years of my life will be devoted to doing to an extent what I've been doing the last 20 years; that is, we have a foundation that does great things for oceans and rain forests and the climate change, anyway, a whole variety of things.

That's what I'll mainly be devoting my time to. Whether I'll do another adventure, I'm not sure it would be fair to put my family through another one. I think I've got the record for being pulled out of the sea five times by helicopters. I'll definitely give it a rest for the time being.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: There's two people in the back. We'll do both questions.

QUESTION: You talked a lot about the overview effect and wanting to spread that.

Would you say you experienced that today?

I was curious, we could go down the line from all the passengers today, if you brought any mementos or a way to commemorate today, I'd love to hear about it.

BRANSON: So, where are we?

I brought some mementos. I think you should always bring mementos. I brought pictures of my kids when they were a little bit littler in front of a giant UFO -- actually, you kids would like this. On April Fools' Day we flew this UFO over London and caused absolute panic in Britain.

They had the police, the army, everybody out and surrounded the UFO when it landed. Then we had a little E.T. figure, that walked out of the UFO when an English bobby came up with a truncheon. [13:35:00]

BRANSON: And this English bobby ran for his life. Pictures of my mom and dad. My mom -- the mother ship is called Eve and that's in her memory. I know she'd be proud. A picture of the whole family. You asked the question. There's a lovely lady who I wanted to go to space and sadly is no more.

And her family asked if I would bring up this picture, which I was delighted to do. I tell you what, somebody else asked me if I could bring up a picture of them. It was a bit heavy, so I brought up his head.

Anybody recognize that head?

Stephen Colbert. Yes, I think we've all brought up mementos.

Did you bring up anything?

BANDLA: I brought up my husband's wedding band. Our wedding didn't really go as planned due to COVID. But he's still here. So I brought a piece of him up with me and a flag from Purdue. Go Boilers.

I brought a pen designed by Matthew Isakowitz, he worked at the Commercial Space Flight Federation and was really an advocate for commercial space flight industry getting off the ground. He unfortunately passed away a few years ago.

We started a fellowship in his honor for students to get into the commercial space industry and just get excited and contribute. I brought a pin up, which I will gift to his family. Oh, and pictures of my family. Sorry, Mom. I did bring up my mother and father.

BENNETT: So much like what Richard said, for me this was all about trying to inspire the next generation and school kids and to try to follow their dreams and achieve amazing things in the future.

I got in touch with my high school and the headmaster was kind enough to send a flag from the high school and then one from University of Illinois where I went. So, yes, I wanted to take those up. I'll send those back and I think they'll find a nice good place to put the picture and the memento as well.

B. MOSES: Well, inside our suits we have inner pockets. I tucked as many flowers in my inner pocket as I could from my loved ones and to represent life. So I flew flowers. That was all.

LT. COL. MICHAEL "SOOCH" MASUCCI, U.S. AIR FORCE (RET.): I'd like to address the first part of your question, what was the view like. This was my second time in space. It was very spectacular.

The first time we went up in February of 2019, this time I did spend a little more time in apogee (ph), trying to take in the view. The first time you do something, you might not get it all right. So I did take a little bit of time in apogee. The amazing thing about Unity is you get the sense of coming to a

stop, stillness, quiet, no systems noises, no sense of movement. The overview effect is definitely there, to answer your question. That was even more amazing this time. So that was my takeaway to your question. Thanks.

DAVID MACKAY, CHIEF PILOT, VIRGIN GALACTIC: I'd echo that. The view is absolutely extraordinary. The dense matte blackness of space and in contrast to the incredible brightness of the surface of the Earth, separated by this beautiful blue atmosphere, which is very complex and very thin and it's an incredible thing to see with your own eyes.

Pictures, no offense to photographers out there, cameras don't do it justice. You have to see it with your own eyes. I carried a couple of very small items, some jewelry items for friends, a little bit of gold that my father panned out of a bairn in the north of Scotland many years ago as part of his hobby.

I also carried my Virgin Atlantic wings. I've been with Virgin Group now for 25 years, flying 747s and A-340s. When I joined Virgin Atlantic, I had a suspicion -- it was led by this extraordinary person and maybe something exciting would happen there.

I never thought anything like this would happen. I never thought we'd be flying spaceships like this on a regular basis.


MACKAY: So thank you, Richard.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I think we have a question at the back.

QUESTION: Sir Richard, Amelia from Channel 9 Australia. In terms of making history and beating out your rival, I know you've been very clear this was not a race. But you have won.

How does that feel now to have come first?

And what words do you have for your competitors and friends in the space tourism industry?

BRANSON: I've said this so many times, it really wasn't a race. We're just delighted that everything went so fantastically well. We wish Jeff the absolute best and the people going up with him during his flight.

It was great this morning to find Elon in my kitchen at 3 o'clock and to come to wish us the best. I'd already been to bed and he was still having gone to bed. He's an all-nighter and our time clocks are completely different. So nice of him to come all this way to wish us well.

And I had a lovely goodwill message from Jeff as well. I mean, so many incredible people around the world, I'm so grateful.

Whoo! We've been to space, everybody. (LAUGHTER)


BRANSON: I'm definitely still up there. We're going to come down with a big thump soon. Anyway, it's so, so, so thrilling when a lifetime's dream comes true. Thank you. Going up with Dave and Sooch, such wonderful people, such wonderful pilots.

Dave has taken me up in all sorts of planes to get the body ready for it. So grateful for his patience.

Anyway, thanks, David. It's been great.

All those people that work Virgin Atlantic, so incredible to be able to bring them over to another company. It's great.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We've only got time for one last question. There's a gentleman here that we said we were coming to. I know we have a question from the school. We'll come back to you as well.

QUESTION: A quick question. I'm from Reuters. We've spoken with your family before the flight. They were very excited, very proud of you.

Have you gotten a chance to speak with your family after you've landed?

What did they say?

BANDLA: They were just so incredibly excited. They heard me say I wanted to go to space since I was little. I should say younger, because I'm still little. They're just so proud. They've been there and supported me. They were just excited.

My dad hugged me so hard when I got here, my sunglasses shattered actually. It was a big embrace. I couldn't be happier. I can't thank them more for their support.

BRANSON: My 3-year-old granddaughter was pointing up, "Papa gone to the moon, Papa gone to the moon." I'm not going to disillusion her. But anyway, so sweet.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We're going to do one more question and I'm just down here on the floor. I'm going to hand you the microphone, OK?

QUESTION: Did you guys see any planets in space?

BRANSON: We -- apart from looking back at our beautiful Earth, we saw a number of different aliens out there.


BRANSON: One of them hitched a lift on the top of the spaceship before we came back into the Earth's -- it rattles a lot as you come back into the Earth's atmosphere.

I think you managed to throw them off, didn't you, Dave?

MACKAY: I did, yes.


BRANSON: So we left the alien up there. But maybe next time we'll open the door and bring them back here.

My kids and grandkids haven't seen E.T. yet. I'm looking forward to showing it to them next week.

Who has seen E.T.?

Wonderful film. Anyway --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Great. I think that is all we have time for.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I know there were lots more questions that we haven't gotten to. Please do go to the press team. They're here. We'll get answers to your questions. We're here to help. I want to thank all of you, once again, for being here and, of course, thanking our wonderful crew.

WHITFIELD: All right, the six-person flight team, led by Sir Richard Branson, having a little fun in this first press conference together since their suborbital flight, very successful suborbital flight.

Still with me, CNN space correspondent Kristin Fisher and CNN aerospace analyst Miles O'Brien.

How delightful with Richard Branson having a little fun, the kids asking questions as well as reporters there, talking about how enchanting and magnificent this flight was, Miles.

Still true to Richard Branson, talking about his 30-year commitment that is ongoing, even after this magnificent flight, he's still committed to planet Earth, the oceans, the rain forest and climate change.

This really is just the beginning for him and all those who made this a very successful flight, Miles.

O'BRIEN: Yes, a lot of people were offering a critique today of the billionaire, the spectacle of a billionaire lighting a candle and going to space and what about all the problems here on Earth?

Take a look at Richard Branson's record when it comes to the environment and climate. It's pretty stellar. As far as an owner of an airline, he's been in the vanguard in encouraging aviation to move into sustainable aviation fuels, among other things.

His foundation does a lot of work in this realm. So this idea that if you go to space, you're a robber baron pillaging the planet, it's not as mutually exclusive as people would seem. What I'm saying is, going to space may seem wasteful but to the extent

it reminds us we live on this fragile little spaceship, to the extent the sensors we put in space can help analyze the environment and climate change, to the extent we may be able to put solar power in space and beam it back or even get resources from the dead rocks we call asteroids, space offers us an opportunity to help save our planet.

We still have to think about our planet. That doesn't mean it's to the exclusion of going outward.

WHITFIELD: Kristin, I think Miles put it so succinctly, Brandon's (sic) commitment, whether it be to the depths of the ocean, exploration of the oceans to now the exploration of space, he's spent his lifetime in this exploratory phase.

Yes, he's having fun but he's also trying to impart an appreciation of the planet. He wants to do so by also making it accessible now, the idea of suborbital flight to ordinary citizens. Yes people have to pay $200,000 initially but ultimately his goal is to make it much more accessible to ordinary citizens.

FISHER: I think Richard Branson said it pretty well. He said today is not just about spaceships or building a successful spaceship, it's about achieving dreams. It's about going out and showing all the kids that were in that room that it's OK, you can dream a big, crazy wild dream that a lot of people think is crazy.

You have a ton of setbacks, you don't know if you'll be able to pull it off. And then 17 years later, you come out here and do the thing you've dreamed about doing for so many years.

That's a piece of it, too. It's about showing the next generation -- who knows what they're going to dream up. But showing the next generation they can do this, too.

Let's talk a little bit about the technical side of things. We learned a little bit in this press conference that we didn't know before, specifically how Spaceship 2 Unity fared during this test flight. They described it as pristine, no issues whatsoever, everything was perfect in real time, except for one big thing, which is what we noticed back here on Earth, that livestream.

We had all been expecting and waiting to see this livestream. We got pieces of it here and there. But it wasn't really great. Fredricka, what I kept thinking about was, wow, think about Apollo 11, the fact that we were able to get that back then, back in the 1960s.

And now here we are in 2021, still having issues with those livestreams. That's one of the things they're going to try to tweak before they fully open these flights up to buying customers.

Richard Branson said he kept a notebook and wrote 30 or 40 things to make the space flight better But overall, he thought it was 99 percent there. Somebody asked him what's next.


FISHER: What are you going to do after this?

He said, you know what?

I think I'm just going to calm down and let my family breathe a little bit after the scare I just put them through.

WHITFIELD: Right. Not put his family through anymore. He's 70 years old. What a journey this has been. And while it was a flaw, not being able to livestream the whole time, but he can watch the tape and relive the whole experience.

We'll take a short break.

And just moments ago, Richard Branson tweeting this, "Welcome to the dawn of a new space age."

We'll talk more on the other side.





QUESTION: What did you see from space?

BRANSON: What you see from space is this wonderful, dark sky and then this incredible blue. We've got these incredible windows. And Dave and Sooch, they turn the spaceship upside down. So when you're floating, you're looking out of these giant windows back at this beautiful, beautiful sky.


WHITFIELD: And so Richard Branson there, describing to kids, who were among the press pool, if you will, asking questions about this maiden voyage of the company that designed the plane that took him and all six on board.

And you look at that safe landing. It was extraordinary. It was, according to his crew, really a pitch perfect fly. Back with me now, our space analyst Miles O'Brien.

Everything that he does is unique, right, how he invited the children there to be part of the questions. And he said, if we can do this, imagine what the next generation can do. You know, he is living up to his promise of exploration.


WHITFIELD: And then now here we are, we're seeing him open it up to the next generation. O'BRIEN: Yes, you know, when people make this argument, well, we

should spend the money here on Earth, on, you name the problem, why go to space.

The thing about space which is never captured in the bottom line is exactly what live arrested is Richard was trying to getting across. No one has ever been able to statistically figure out how many young people were inspired by Apollo or the space shuttle or Elon Musk or this.

To what extent does that make them want to study harder in school and perhaps learn mathematics or physics or whatever it may be. And it makes something that may be dry into something that is a great adventure. And Sir Richard gets that.

And that is -- that is a big part of what is happening right now, is engaging across the generations that idea of excitement and the idea that stopping for a moment to do and dare mighty things, what ultimately makes our planet a better place. So a little hard for people it make that connection but I believe that it is very real.

WHITFIELD: Miles O'Brien, thanks so much.

And don't go anywhere, we have so much more straight ahead.