In the race to be the first billionaire in space, Richard Branson is now the odds-on favorite.
The brash Britisher, the founder of Virgin Galactic, said today he will fly into space aboard his company’s VSS Unity rocketplane on July 11, beating Amazon-founder Jeff Bezos into sub-orbital space by nine days.
Branson’s Virgin Galactic and Bezos’ Blue Origin are battling to to become the leaders in space tourism, with both hoping to offer short rides just above the discernible atmosphere for a few minutes of weightlessness.
The flights will have a serious side as well, with researchers, government experiments and space technology tests also part of the business plan.
There are no economy class tickets on these rides. It’s anticipated that a trip will cost between $250,000 and $500,000 per trip. There’s already a waiting list of people who have deposits on file with Virgin.
Blue Origin has set July 20, the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing, for its first flight. Jeff Bezos will be joined by aviation pioneer Wally Funk, Mark Bezos (Jeff’s brother) and an as-yet unknown winner of an online auction for the remaining seat. That person paid $28 million for the privilege.
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“I truly believe that space belongs to all of us,” Branson said in a Thursday statement. “After more than 16 years of research, engineering, and testing, Virgin Galactic stands at the vanguard of a new commercial space industry, which is set to open space to humankind and change the world for good.”
He added that he was “honored to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin.”
Joining Branson will be pilots Dave MacKay and Michael Masucci, along with Virgin’s chief astronaut instructor, Beth Moses, operations engineer Colin Bennett, and Sirisha Bandla, Virgin’s vice president for government affairs and research operations.
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