The billionaire space race has heated up again. It seemed for a time that Amazon’s Jeff Bezos would win the day, after he announced plans to take to the stars July 20th. But Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson pulled ahead, announcing yesterday that he would be beating the soon-to-be former Amazon CEO to space by mere days. Branson will be blasting off July 11th – just over a week before his billionaire pal. 

UPDATED

Branson Beats Bezos

Richard Branson

On Thursday July 1st, Richard Branson announced that he would be traveling to space as a mission specialist on his company’s VSS Unity rocket. Virgin Galactic has been working at a furious space for over 16 years to get to the point where a commercial flight could take place – and Branson, aboard the Unity, will be the first space-bound pleasure cruiser. Branson will be one of six – also on the flight will be pilots Dave MacKay and Michael Masucci, along with Virgin’s chief astronaut instructor Beth Moses, lead engineer Colin Bennett, and Virgin’s vice president of government affairs and research operations. 

And the 70 year old is thoughtful as he faces his first trip to space. Yahoo! News shares, “‘I truly believe that space belongs to all of us. 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,’ Branson said in a press release. ‘It’s one thing to have a dream of making space more accessible to all; it’s another for an incredible team to collectively turn that dream into reality.’

‘As part of a remarkable crew of mission specialists, I’m honored to help validate the journey our future astronauts will undertake and ensure we deliver the unique customer experience people expect from Virgin,’ the billionaire added.”

Branson’s Thoughts on the Space Race

And as for his race against Bezos? The 70-year-old doesn’t exactly consider it a race, although he concedes that it’s been represented that way. CELEB was there at Virgin Hotels’ opening in Las Vegas, and Branson spoke candidly on his thoughts about the billionaire space race, “I’ve dreamt of going to space since I saw the moon landing when I was a teenager.”

Branson continued, “We don’t see it as a race. It makes a good story for it to be a race. But it’s about going to space, pioneering a way for thousands of people who want to have the chance to go to space in safe vehicles.”

And as to whether Branson is first or second to space, at the time he said, “I know Jeff, and we don’t see it as a race – we see it as creating something extraordinary that others can share. Our approaches are different in spaceship design and the kinds of experiences, and so on. But it’s a coincidence that we both ended up pretty well finishing our projects at around the same time.”

Of course, now we know that Branson coincidentally is beating Bezos by a week – which is only a coincidence if you don’t know Branson and his playful competitive nature. During the Virgin Hotels opening, Branson said thoughtfully, “Whenever I go to space, I’m really looking forward to enabling thousands of people – who are hopefully reading this article – to one day become astronauts and go to space.”

Bezos’ Flight Plans

Richard Branson

And speaking of Bezos, he will now be the second billionaire in space, taking flight July 20th. CELEB explored his impending journey; “Bezos is resigning as CEO of Amazon, effective July 5th, so his first space flight will happen just two weeks after that – a heck of a way to start retirement. Bezos, ever the risk-taker, is looking forward to the monumental trip; per CNN, “‘Ever since I was five years old, I’ve dreamed of traveling to space,’ Bezos, 57, said in a Monday morning Instagram post. ‘On July 20th, I will take that journey with my brother. The greatest adventure, with my best friend.’”

The New Shepard has been developed in relative secret, with Blue Origin conducting multiple unmanned missions to test the rocket’s capabilities. CNN adds, “Bezos has called Blue Origin the most important work I’m doing,’ though he has not previously been open about whether he personally would like to travel to space.

‘I’m interested in space because I’m passionate about it,’ Bezos, who also made a cameo in 2016’s Star Trek: Beyond, said during an interview with Mathias Döpfner, the CEO of Axel Springer. ‘I’ve been studying it and thinking about it since I was a five year old boy — but that is not why I’m pursuing this work. I’m pursuing this work because I believe if we don’t, we will eventually end up with a civilization of stasis, which I find very demoralizing.’”

It’s clear that Branson’s dreams of creating a stepping stone for others and Bezos’ dreams of keeping civilization moving forward are coming together to create a beautiful milestone in humanity’s exploration of space. While billionaires deserve a lot of the heat they receive for avoiding taxes and hoarding money, they certainly have invested in their respective space programs and deserve to be on these first steps to the stars. But don’t expect SpaceX’s Elon Musk to hop a ship to the stars; he has work on earth that’s too important to endanger by taking the risky suborbital flights his peers are planning. It’ll be up to Branson and then Bezos to pave the way for the rest of us; and some day, it may even be affordable. 

UPDATE 7/20/21

Billionaires Take Their Joy Rides

It’s official: today, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin’s rocket New Shepard successfully blasted off and the billionaire former CEO of Amazon completed his very first space flight, which lasted just under 15 minutes. Bezos’ crew included his brother Mark Bezos, female aviation pioneer Wally Funk, who became the oldest person ever to fly to space at 82. Today also marked the youngest person who ever flew to space, 18-year-old Oliver Daemen. Today’s date was no accident, as it was on this day 52 years ago that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong first landed on the moon in 1969. According to Bezos, today was the “best day ever.” 

The New Shepard did something else remarkable; it crossed something called the Kármán Line, which is approximately 66 miles above Earth and is often considered the gold standard for the line between Earth and Space. However, NASA draws the Earth/Space line at 50 miles, a milestone which was achieved earlier this month when Richard Branson successfully became the first billionaire to go to space – depending, of course, on where you draw your space line. 

Where Bezos’s launch was joyful and dignified, Branson blasted off with typical Richard Branson style – full of fire and glee. Branson was all grins as he and his crew beat Bezos to space by 9 days, forever claiming a first in the industry of space tourism. Branson’s VSS Unity reached an altitude of 282,000 miles above Earth. 

Despite the fact that they’re clearly in a race to be the first company to corner space tourism, both companies insist they’re not in a race. Newsweek shares, “‘I’ve said this so many times, it really wasn’t a race,’ Branson said after landing. ‘We’re just delighted that everything went so fantastically well. We wish Jeff the absolute best and the people who are going up with him during his flight.'” And it was clear that Branson’s flight was a childhood dream come true, however conveniently it concluded 9 days before Bezos’s childhood dream. 

Criticisms are running rampant online as both billionaires are seen to be joy-riding in space, while on the ground the Earth is still consumed by a pandemic. They’re accused of having their sights set too high and missing the forest for the trees. As a result, these monumental and record-breaking firsts are somewhat tainted by the times in which they occur. But however people feel about the choice to spend unimaginable amounts of money to touch the sky, both flights do provide an important step forward in human exploration and travel, and pretty soon people will be able to hop their own joyrides to space; for the right price, of course.