Stephen Colbert Adds a Dash of Comedy to Branson’s Space Launch

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In this billionaire space race, slipping the surly bonds of Earth apparently isn’t enough — not without some glitz and a bevy of celebrities.

Richard Branson combined private spaceflight with show business on Sunday as he completed his highly-anticipated Virgin Galactic flight high above the New Mexico desert. He enlisted “The Late Show” host Stephen Colbert to introduce segments of a live streamed production, which was delayed around 90 minutes by the weather.

Mr. Colbert played up a humorous rivalry he has cultivated with the entrepreneur on his talk shows over the years, and joked about some of Mr. Branson’s failed business ventures, like Virgin Cola.

“Seriously, he lost money selling sugar water,” Mr. Colbert quipped. “All aboard.”

Later in the production, the Grammy-winning artist Khalid gave a performance in front of a small crowd on an outdoor stage at Spaceport America, which featured the release of his new song, “New Normal.” The musician, appearing in a sequined jacket as machines sprayed mist on a stage, performed three songs.

“Look how far we’ve came just as humanity,” he said during the live steam.

Around two hours before lifting off, Mr. Branson shared a photo of himself with a shoeless Elon Musk, a billionaire rival in the private conquest of space.

“Great to start the morning with a friend,” Mr. Branson said on Twitter.

Even Mr. Branson’s arrival at Spaceport America wasn’t lacking for showmanship. Flanked by two white Range Rovers, the British mogul pedaled to the site at daybreak on a bicycle, a video posted by Mr. Branson showed. Once there, other members of the flight’s crew greeted him and joked that he was late.

In England, where he was knighted by Prince Charles in 2000, the spotlight did not entirely belong to Mr. Branson, however. Mr. Branson’s space odyssey coincided with the men’s tennis final at Wimbledon on Sunday — historically billed for U.S. television audiences as “breakfast at Wimbledon.”

The flight also came just hours before England was set to take on Italy in the soccer finals of Euro 2020, which has drawn the collective attention of many people in Britain. Some on social media suggested that Mr. Branson’s timing was less than ideal.

The live stream production was not without its hiccups. The show’s hosts tried to interview Mr. Branson when the plane reached space, but the audio feed wasn’t working. After re-entry, many of his words were garbled as he tried to describe what it was like to visit space.

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