Richard Branson’s moment of destiny in space will happen 50 miles above a town called Truth or Consequences.
It has been a long journey for the billionaire, and this vertical journey will take place more than a decade after he had originally envisaged it happening.
That seems irrelevant now as – hours before England’s footballers hope to make history at Wembley – Branson expects to reach his own pinnacle as the first billionaire space tourism tycoon to become an astronaut.
His wife and family will be there to watch.
Hours before take-off, it was somewhat humbling to stand under the rocket of his space ship Unity.
Slung beneath its mothership, the small plane-like craft almost looks too flimsy for the mission.
In the air-conditioned cool of the Spaceport America hangar, the final touches were being added before take-off in the blistering heat just after dawn.
Two pilots, three mission specialists and one tycoon will shoot vertically at three times the speed of sound for a few minutes of zero gravity, an unrivalled view of the earth and an equally rapid start to their descent.
All being well they will glide back to the runway.
Branson will beat Amazon founder Jeff Bezos into space by nine days and few can really believe his claim that winning the race doesn’t matter to him.
Bezos’s Blue Origin team have raised questions about whether Branson will actually reach space at all.
They subscribe to the view of some that 62 miles up is the real deal, while Branson is happy to take NASA‘s judgment that an altitude of 50 miles makes an astronaut.
But for a lifelong showman like Branson this is more than a mere publicity stunt or even a realisation of that childhood dream.
Taking a seat aboard will send a message to the hundreds who have put down tens of thousands of pounds to secure a seat that their journey will happen and will be safe.
No one can discount the risks. Seven years ago a pilot died when one of Unity’s predecessors broke up during a test flight. Space, as they always say, is hard.
For Branson this is as much about business as any high ideals of opening space up to the rest of us.
You still have to be very rich to even dream of joining any of the commercial missions.
And there is no denying that a successful mission for Branson will signify a new era in space travel.
Big win for Joe Biden as Democrats land outright majority in the US Senate, NBC News projects
Democrat Raphael Warnock has been re-elected to the US Senate in a crucial win for President Joe Biden, NBC News has projected.
His expected victory gives Democrats an outright majority in the Senate after two years under a 50-50 divide, with Vice President Kamala Harris casting tie-breaking votes.
Mr Warnock defeated Republican rival Herschel Walker during the Georgia race – a former NFL star.
A run-off election was triggered because neither candidate had won an outright majority during the midterm elections last month.
In his victory speech, Mr Warnock told supporters: “After a hard-fought campaign – or should I say campaigns – it is my honour to utter the four most powerful words ever spoken in a democracy: The people have spoken.”
Mr Biden called him to offer his congratulations.
He tweeted: “Tonight Georgia voters stood up for our democracy, rejected Ultra MAGAism, and most importantly: sent a good man back to the Senate. Here’s to six more years.”
Mr Walker, an American football legend in the 1980s, was unable to overcome a bevy of damaging allegations, including claims he paid for two former girlfriends’ abortions.
A multimillionaire businessman, he inflated his philanthropic activities and business achievements, including claiming his company employed hundreds of people and grossed tens of millions of dollars in sales annually, even though records indicate he had eight employees and averaged about $1.5m (£1.2m) a year.
He has suggested he has worked as a law enforcement officer and was a college (university) graduate, though he has done neither.
His Senate run was endorsed by former president Donald Trump.
Yet another signal America is moving away from Donald Trump as a political force
Having followed Herschel Walker on the campaign trail in Georgia, it is difficult to believe this race ever went to a runoff.
The former NFL star has consistently struggled to convey a coherent message, with badly delivered speeches in contrast with his opponent, Reverend Raphael Warnock, a preacher by trade who commands an audience.
Walker was handpicked as a nominee by the former president, Donald Trump, but his reputation was smashed to smithereens during the course of the campaign.
He ran on an anti-abortion pledge, yet two women emerged to allege he paid for them to have an abortion after they became pregnant by him (claims he denies). He also condemned absentee fathers, particularly in black households, but later acknowledged he has a son he never sees.
But his defeat is not only important for Democrats because of the rejection of his personal integrity – or lack thereof – and the “Make America Great Again” values he espoused.
It also means that – for the first time in Joe Biden’s presidency – his party has an outright majority in the senate.
The new 51-49 split means Democrats can speed up judicial nominees and control committees in the Senate. But it also avoids a situation where one senator – in the past two years it has been Joe Manchin or Kyrsten Sinema – can wield their swing vote as a weapon.
Perhaps most significantly, though, it is yet another signal that America is moving away from Mr Trump as a political force.
On the campaign, Mr Warnock, the state’s first black senator, promoted his Senate accomplishments, touting a provision he sponsored to cap insulin costs for low income patients, and deals on infrastructure and maternal healthcare.
Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer said Mr Warnock’s victory was one “against MAGA Republican extremist policies”.
The closing weeks of the election period grew increasingly bitter. Mr Walker labelled Mr Warnock – senior pastor at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia’s capital – as a “hypocrite” and servile to President Joe Biden.
Although a Democrat, Mr Warnock had been attempting to distance himself from Mr Biden, whose approval ratings have lagged as inflation in the US remains high.
The Democrats’ new outright majority in the Senate does not mean an end to divided government, as the Republicans narrowly flipped House control in recent midterms, but it does mean they will now hold control of powerful committees.
Donald Trump firm guilty of defrauding tax authorities for more than 15 years
Donald Trump’s real estate company has been found guilty of running a criminal scheme to defraud tax authorities for 15 years.
The scheme operated by The Trump Organization included avoiding paying personal income taxes on perks such as rent-free apartments and luxury cars.
“The smorgasbord of benefits is designed to keep its top executives happy and loyal,” prosecutor Joshua Steinglass told
jurors during his closing argument on Friday.
The firm, which operates hotels, golf courses and other real estate around the world had pleaded not guilty.
The former US president was not personally charged in the case.
The Trump Organization had argued that chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg, 75, ran the scheme to benefit himself.
He is on paid leave and testified that he received more than $1m in salary and bonus payments this year.
The firm will be sentenced on 13 January. Trump Organization lawyer Alan Futerfas told reporters the company would appeal.
While the firm now faces paying a fine, it is considered unlikely that it would cause serious damage to a company of its size. The group comprises about 500 business entities.
However, the conviction could make lenders and partners think twice.
The Trump Organization also faces a fraud lawsuit brought by New York state Attorney General Letitia James.
And Donald Trump himself is being investigated by the US Department of Justice over his handling of sensitive government documents after he left office in January 2021 – and attempts to overturn the November 2020 election, which he lost to Joe Biden.
Republican leader snubbed as police who defended US Capitol honoured
The Republicans’ leader in the Senate has been snubbed by the family of a police officer who died following the US Capitol riots on 6 January 2021.
It happened during a ceremony held for officers who defended the Washington DC landmark against Donald Trump supporters.
The officers have been honoured with Congressional gold medals for “courageously answering the call to defend our democracy in one of the nation’s darkest hours”, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said.
Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell commented: “Thank you for having our backs. Thank you for saving our country. Thank you for not only being our friends, but our heroes.”
But when the family of Brian Sicknick, who died after suffering two strokes on 7 January, passed Mr McConnell in a line-up, they refused to shake his outstretched hand.
In contrast, the Democrats’ leader in the Senate, Chuck Schumer, received a kiss from Gladys Sicknick, the late officer’s mother.
Recognising the hundreds of officers who were at the Capitol on 6 January, the medals will be placed in four locations: US Capitol Police headquarters, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Capitol and the Smithsonian Institution.
President Joe Biden said one was being placed at the Smithsonian museum “so all visitors can understand what happened that day”.
“Many of us still carry the mental, physical and emotional scars,” Metropolitan Police Chief Robert Contee said.
He told the officers: “It was your blood, your sweat and your tears that marked these grounds.”
US Capitol Police Chief Thomas Manger called it a “day unlike any other in our nation’s history – and for us”.
He added: “It was a day defined by chaos, courage and tragic loss.”
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