Billionaire blast off: Richard Branson plans space trip earlier than rival Bezos
With both tycoons having created space tourism companies, the move signaled clear if not fierce competition.
WASHINGTON: Call it the local billionaire race: British activist Richard Branson and his rival Jeff Bezos on Thursday, announcing that he too will explode across the globe – nine days before the founder of Amazon.
With both tycoons already establishing space travel companies and positioning themselves as leaders in the suborbital-rich-aviation industry, the move has shown strong competition otherwise.
The announcement follows Buzo’s announcement in early June that he and his brother will be part of the crew on his first flight to Blue Origin’s New Shepard.
The move sparked a thunderstorm for Branson, who had long promised to take part in the Virgin Galactic test flight before the launch of the 2022 standard commercial operations.
The tables were turned Thursday though: while Bezos probably thought he could control the news of the day’s space with the morning announcement that 82-year-old female wrestler Wally Funk would join him on his New Shepard flight, by Branson I had the last laugh.
Virgin Galactic has announced that Branson will be a “mechanical specialist” inside SpaceShipTwo Unity, which will go into space on July 11, “pending the weather and technical testing.”
“I strongly believe that space is for all of us,” Branson said, adding that “Virgin Galactic stands in a new commercial center, dedicated to opening up space for humanity and transforming the world for the better.”
Once the plan is finalized, Branson will be in full force ahead of Bezos, who has said he will take over on July 20.
- Better than boys –
Branson “will test the experience of a private star and will receive training, preparation, and flight as future Virgin Galactic scientists,” the company said.
By the time Branson’s trip was over, Funk’s was in his 60’s: he was one of the Mercury 13 – the first women to be trained to fly in space from 1960-1961, but dropped out because of their gender.
When he exploded with the Bezos brothers, Funk would be the oldest person to ever go to space, taking part not only with his siblings but also with another traveler who paid $ 28 million for a seat auction.
“I can’t wait any longer,” Funk said in a video posted to Bezos’ Instagram account, in which he appeared to hug the founder of Amazon with a burst of joy.
The oldest survivor of space so far is US astronaut John Glenn, who flew in 1998 at 77 years of age at Discovery.
A veteran pilot, Funk has accumulated 19,600 flight hours and was also the first female air safety inspector at the National Transportation Safety Board.
Funk recalled his time on the Mercury 13 program, saying “they told me I did better and I finished the job faster than all the guys.”
“So I got NASA, four times. I said I wanted to be an astronaut, but no one would take me. I didn’t think I would ever be able to climb.”
Writing on Instagram Bezos said “It’s time. Welcome to the staff, Wally.”
Ironically, Funk had bought a ticket years ago to fly me to Virgin Galactic.
- Apples and Oranges –
The spacecraft made by Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin is very different, though the passengers will eventually have the same or less experience: a few minutes of powerlessness.
In the case of the Virgin Galactic, the spacecraft is not an ancient rocket, but a space shuttle that reaches and releases a small spacecraft, the VSS Unity, which burns its engines and reaches the suborbital space, then returns to Earth.
Blue Origin, meanwhile, is an old-fashioned rocket experience, with a direct vertical launch after which the capsule will part with its booster, then spend four minutes at an altitude of more than 60 km (100 km), at which point those aboard the ship they gain weight and you can see the bending of the Earth.
The booster sits independently in a pan two miles from the starting point, and the capsule floats back up by three large parachute delays about a mile an hour upon arrival.