Richard Branson brought Stephen Colbert’s headshot to space with him

Richard branson holds photo of stephen colbert
Richard Branson holds up a photo of comedian Stephen Colbert that he brought with him into space, during a press conference on July 11, 2021. Patrick T. Fallon/Getty Images

Stephen Colbert has never been to space, but his headshot just hitched a ride there with billionaire Richard Branson.

Branson, who founded the spaceflight company Virgin Galactic in 2004, flew about 89km above the Earth on its space plane on Sunday morning. It was Virgin Galactic’s first fully crewed flight – in addition to Branson, it carried two pilots and three Virgin Galactic employees. A tiny photo of Colbert, who hosted the company’s livestream of the spaceflight, was on board, too.

“I brought up this head,” Branson said at a news conference after the flight, holding up the photo. “Anybody recognize that head? Stephen Colbert.”

During Branson’s flight, Colbert sat at a desk and cracked jokes live in the style of his late-night comedy shows, as footage from the plane flashed next to him.

Stephen Colbert smiling in suit black background
Stephen Colbert at the Dolby Theatre in Los Angeles on March 16, 2019. Richard Shotwell/Invision/Associated Press

The flight started with the lift-off of a large mothership, which carried Virgin Galactic’s SpaceShipTwo vehicle 16km up, then dropped it. After that, the space plane, named VSS Unity, immediately fired its engines and screamed to the edge of space.

The plane plateaued above Earth, giving its passengers a few minutes to float around the cabin and enjoy the views before it plummeted back down to land on a runway in New Mexico.

Virgin galactic space plane firing engines flying up
A still image from video shows Virgin Galactic’s VSS Unity, carrying Richard Branson and crew, ascending to the edge of space, July 11, 2021. Virgin Galactic via Reuters

Branson brought several other mementos with him to space, including photos of his children and his parents.

Virgin Galactic plans to start commercial tourist flights to the edge of space in 2022, and the company says it has lined up roughly 600 buyers, who will pay about $250,000 each. Another 1,000 people have paid deposits to get on a waiting list for the next round of sales.

The company is also giving away two free tickets for future SpaceShipTwo flights in a sweepstakes. Donations from that competition will benefit Space for Humanity, a nonprofit aiming to sponsor citizen-astronaut flights to space.

“I imagine it must be an emotional and life-changing moment to experience zero G and see our fragile planet floating in the depths of space,” Colbert said during the livestream. “I would go up in a minute – if my wife would let me.”