Where does the Earth’s atmosphere end and space begin? While a clear boundary, like international borders, does not exist, Fédération Aéronautique Internationale –an international body that governs air sports –has attempted to define the edge of space, the line where the outer space begins. The Kármán line or von Karman line, which is the assumed edge of space, is set 100 kilometres higher than the Earth’s surface. However, the recent “space” travel by the billionaire Richard Branson and his team from Virgin Galactic reached a height of only 86 kilometres.
Now, famous astrophysicist and celebrity science communicator Neil DeGrasse Tyson has said that Branson did not actually travel to space. In an interview with anchor Fareed Zakaria on a CNN show, when the host asked if it is space travel, Tyson said, “No. I am sorry,” and then he laughed. Tyson further explained that Branson’s travel was actually suborbital and the feat was achieved by NASA about 60 years ago.
However, Tyson said that he is delighted that this could be a new tourist attraction.
Demonstrating the distance Branson travelled using a globe, Tyson explained that if we took the globe as the Earth, the International Space Station would be one centimetre away from its surface. On this scale,Branson went would be about 2 mm away from the surface of the globe.
“It is okay if you want to call it ‘space’ because average humans have not gotten there before and it’s a first for you,” Tyson told Zakaria in the interview. Branson needed to travel about four times higher to reach the height of the International Space Station that is about 408 kilometres high.
On Sunday, July 11, Branson, founder of the Virgin Galactic, a commercial spaceflight company, travelled to about 86 kilometres in height in Virgin Galactic’s rocket plane VSS Unity. The billionaire was accompanied by two pilots, Michael Masucci and Dave Mackey, and three crew members — Sirisha Bandla, Beth Moses and Colin Benett. Bandla hails from Andhra Pradesh, India and is the second Indian-born woman after Kalpana Chawla to travel to space, in case Branson’s flight is considered space travel.