Heavens above

Richard Branson wears pride ribbon to space in memory of Pulse nightclub victims

Richard Branson and the rainbow ribbon he wore on his space flight
Richard Branson and the rainbow ribbon he wore on his space flight (Photo: Twitter)

Entrepreneur Richard Branson, 70, made history when he flew to the edge of space in his Virgin Galactic space plane yesterday.

Speaking to the Daily Mail hours before his ride, which took off from New Mexico, the British businessman said he was taking photos of his family, and a small Pride flag.

“Somebody who lost a loved one at the Orlando massacre asked if I would do that. We also have many, many friends who are gay and I know people who lost friends there.”

In a video posted to Twitter, a rainbow ribbon was prominently fixed to his spacesuit. Branson said, “My mission statement is to turn the dream of space travel into a reality for my grandchildren, for your grandchildren, for everyone.” As he says, “for everyone”, there’s a close-up shot of the ribbon.

Branson appeared on TV answering journalist questions after the flight and was wearing the rainbow ribbon on his suit. Livestream footage of the flight also showed him wearing it.

Related: The Pulse massacre is remembered in Orlando through memorials to 49 victims

It turns out the ribbon was created by Ben Johansen, founder of the Orlando Ribbon Project. He began the project after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June 2016, in which 49 people (mainly LGBTQ), lost their lives. Since that time, the costume maker and business owner has made over 1.3 million rainbow ribbons to honor the LGBTQ lives lost to hate and homophobia. He has sent them out to people all over the world.

Yesterday, Johansen posted to his own Facebook.

“So now I can talk about it! Yes, Sir Richard Branson is wearing the Orlando Ribbon today and helping me achieve another goal of the Ribbon Project.

“When I announced that was my next goal, I didn’t think it would have much chance of happening. Then The Watermark did a story on the project and what my future plans for ribbons were.

“The article was read by a traveler from CA, and he read the story. (I’m not mentioned names until I get permission), but he reached out and said he might be able to help me get ribbons into space. He didn’t give many details as to not get my hopes up. (He reached out around 6 months or so ago).

“Well, I received a call from him this past Friday saying it might happen. He knows Sir Richard and talked with him personally. I sent an overnight package of ribbons to this person and from then it’s been a few weeks…..until Friday’s call.

“But today, it’s happening. The Orlando Ribbon Project has gotten ribbons to all 50 States, 65 Countries, Every Continent, and now, The 49 will be up with the stars. Thank you so much to Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Galactic for helping The 49 be honored. ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜”

This was followed a few hours later by a second post naming the man who had helped him.

“I owe a huge thank you to Chris Ian Garlington. He was the one who saw the story of me trying to get ribbons into space, and offered to help me get them to see the stars.

“So now I’ve gotten ribbons to all 50 States, 65 Countries, and all 7 Continents…….and now space! What’s next?”

Related: Virgin CEO Richard Branson Refuses To Do Business With Anti-Gay Uganda, Urges Boycott

Branson first announced he planned to take commercial passengers to space with the formation of Virgin Galactic back in 2004. However, developing the program has taken considerably longer than he planned, not to mention around $1billion in financing.

Others have also announced plans for commercial space flights. Most notably, Jeff Bezos of Amazon with his Blue Origin project and Elon Musk (of Tesla and SpaceX). On July 20, Bezos will also head to the edge of space in his own craft, New Shepard. The announcement of Bezos’ flight prompted Branson to bring his own planned trip forward.

The Virgin Galactic trip included Branson, three crewmates and two pilots. The brand is looking to begin offering 90-minute commercial flights next year.

The timing of the Virgin Galactic flight with Branson is rumored to have irked the Blue Origin team. Last week, it posted a tweet pointing out that its craft will go higher and offer bigger windows than Virgin Galactic. It points out that Blue Origin will fly above the Kármán line, an internationally recognized boundary to space 62miles (100km) in altitude.

Virgin Galactic’s space flight took place below that line, but at around 55 miles in altitude, was well above another boundary of space at 50 miles (80 km) recognized by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), NASA, and the U.S. military.

Related: Winning design for Orlando’s Pulse Memorial and Museum announced