Watching Stephen Colbert host the Unity 22 Spaceflight livestream on Sunday, July 11 is a surreal experience. At first, after a litany of fawning accolades about Virgin Galactic founder Richard Branson, he gets a weak dig in, calling him a “goatee host organism.” Later, he says he likes how the spacecraft’s jet streams feather, “like Richard’s hair.” These nods to comedy — tiny droplets of pre-approved deprecation of the extremely rich and powerful man doing the extremely expensive private venture — stand out in a livestream where Colbert has to speak about Branson’s “deep lifelong passion for space exploration” and “the wonder of innovation” with a very straight face. Everyone on the livestream keeps calling Branson “the man with the license to thrill,” so also there’s that. The spaceship carrying Branson, three other “mission specialists,” and two pilots, reached space at 11:29 a.m. and landed at 11:40 a.m.
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