SPACEPORT AMERICA: British billionaire Richard Branson flew into space Sunday aboard a Virgin Galactic vessel, a voyage he described as the “experience of a lifetime” — and one he hopes will usher in an era of lucrative space tourism. The mission”s success allowed the swashbuckling septuagenarian to one up fellow tycoon Jeff Bezos — who owns space company Blue Origin, and is set to launch on July 20 — in the race to the final frontier. “I have dreamt of this moment since I was a kid, but honestly nothing could prepare you for the view of Earth from space,” he said, grinning during a post-flight ceremony where he and crewmates received their astronaut wings, before popping open the champagne to celebrate. Branson, three fellow passengers and two pilots (all Virgin employees) breached the US-recognized boundary of space, reaching an altitude of 53.5 miles (86 kilometers) and experiencing weightlessness for a few minutes aboard the VSS Unity. The spaceplane then lowered its wings and glided down to the ground at around 9:40 am Mountain Time (1540 GMT), about an hour after it had taken off attached to the belly of a massive carrier plane, which ascended 10 miles (15 kilometers) before dropping its payload. The rocket-powered Unity achieved a top speed of Mach 3 as it soared to space. “Congratulations to all our wonderful team at Virgin Galactic for 17 years of hard, hard work to get us this far,” Branson said during an intermittent live feed as Unity descended, calling it the “experience of a lifetime. ” The patchy video transmission was the only blemish on an otherwise drama-free flight, and more inflight footage is expected to be released later on. Branson scooped up his grandchildren and hugged loved ones after the trip. SpaceX boss Elon Musk, who came to watch the flight, quickly tweeted “Congratulations, beautiful flight!” Branson, the consummate showman, also unveiled a Willy Wonka-esque competition for space enthusiasts to win two free tickets on Virgin Galactic flights through the website Omaze — and a persona guided tour of Spaceport America.