The billionaire head of Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson, will go into space before Amazon chief Jeff Bezos, after tweaking the launch schedule.
If the Space Race of the mid-twentieth century was a show of prestige contested between communist and democratic nation states, the space race of the early twentieth century is apparently a private event between two plutocrats. In the wake of Jeff Bezos’ announcement that he would be sent into space by his Blue Origin company on July 20, Richard Branson has declared that the Virgin Galactic will launch him into space little more than a week before that, on July 11. Petty? Sure, but but what else could you expect given Branson’s flair for showmanship?
In a typically humble introduction shown in the above video, each astronaut gives their name and number before we’re treated to flickering lights, slow motion, and the familiar tones of self-described “Astronaut 001”, Sir Richard himself, who claims he is there to evaluate “the customer spaceflight experience” (which sounds suspiciously like the kind of non-job description given to a work experience boy, were it not for the whole ‘spaceflight’ bit).
Originally this flight was set to be another test flight rather than the inaugural voyage, so we have to hope that everything has been fully safety-checked before Branson claims his title as the first space tourist.
Previous footage from test flights looks incredibly impressive, and it’s understandable to see why so many potential customers are ready to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for the privilege. According to estimates from CNBC, each flight will cost around $400,000 per customer and there will be 400 such voyages each year once it’s up and running.