Billionaire Blastoff: The rich riding their own rocket into space

Cape Canaveral, Fla. — Two billionaires are lining everything up to ride their own rockets into space this month.

It aims to provide an attractive confidence boost for customers who want their own short joyride.

The lucrative, high-stakes chase for space tourists will unfold at the edge of space – 55 miles by 66 miles (88 by 106 kilometers) above Virgin Galactic’s Richard Branson, the world’s richest man, Blue Origin’s Jeff Bezos. to stand against

Branson is scheduled to take off from New Mexico on Sunday with two pilots and three other crews being launched by a double-fuselage plane aboard a rocket plane.

Bezos departs West Texas nine days later, detonating a fully automated capsule with three guests: his brother, an 82-year-old female aviation pioneer who waited six decades for a shot in space, and $28. Million charity auction winner.

Branson’s flight will be long, but Bezos’s flight will be high.

Branson’s craft has more windows, but Bezos’s has bigger windows.

Branson’s piloted plane has already been to space three times. Bezos has had five times as many test flights, though none with people on board.

Either way, they’re shooting sky-high bragging rights as the first person to fly their rocket into space and experience three to four minutes of weightlessness.

Branson, who turns 71 another week, considers it “very important” to try it out before space tourists are allowed on board. He insists that he is not apprehensive; This is a thrill-seeking adventurer who flew a kite over the English Channel and attempted to circumnavigate the world in a hot air balloon.

“As a kid, I wanted to go to space. When it didn’t seem possible for my generation, I entered the name Virgin Galactic with the notion of creating a company that could do that,” Branson said. wrote a blog this week. Seventeen years after the founding of Virgin Galactic, it is on the cusp of experiencing a place for itself.

“It’s amazing where an idea can take you, no matter how far-fetched it may seem at first.”

Bezos, 57, who stepped down as Amazon CEO on Monday, announced in early June that he would be on the first passenger flight of his New Shepard rocket, marking the 52nd anniversary of the moon landings of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin.

Bezos said via Instagram that he too had a dream of traveling to space since childhood. “On July 20, I will take that journey with my brother. The biggest adventure with my best friend.”

Branson was to fly later this year on the second of three more test flights planned by Virgin Galactic before flying to ticket holders next year. But late last week, he jumped ahead.

He insists that he is not trying to beat Bezos and that this is not a race. Yet his announcement came just hours after Bezos revealed he would be joined in space by Wally Funk, one of the last surviving members of the so-called Mercury 13. Despite 13 female pilots passing the same tests in space as NASA’s original, all-male Mercury 7 astronauts in the early 1960s.

Bezos has not publicly commented on Branson’s upcoming flight.

But some of Blue Origin are already disparaging the fact that their capsule crosses the designated Karman line of space 62 miles (100 kilometers) above, while Virgin Galactic has a peak altitude of 55 miles (88 kilometers). . The International Aeronautics and Astronaut Association in Europe recognizes the Karman Line as the official boundary between the upper atmosphere and space, while NASA, the Air Force, the Federal Aviation Administration and some astrophysicists accept a minimum altitude of 50 miles (80 km). .

Blue Origin’s flights last 10 minutes until the capsule parachutes to the desert floor. Virgin Galactic’s final time is about 14 to 17 minutes when the space plane drops from the mothership and fires its rocket motor for a steep climb until it glides to a runway landing.

SpaceX’s Elon Musk doesn’t hop up and down fast at the edge of space. His capsules go into orbit, and he’s shooting for Mars.

“There’s a big difference between reaching space and reaching orbit,” Musk said on Twitter last week.

Musk has already taken 10 astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA, and his company’s first private spaceflight is coming in September for another billionaire who has bought a three-day, globe-circling ride.

No matter how high they fly, Virgin Galactic and Blue Origin are already referring to their potential customers as “astronauts.” More than 600 have reserved seats with Virgin Galactic for $250,000. Blue Origin will announce prices and start ticket sales once Bezos takes off.

Phil McAllister, NASA’s commercial space flight director, considers it a space renaissance, especially as the space station gears up to welcome a string of paying visitors, a Russian actress and filmmaker in October, a Japanese one in December. A pair and a SpaceX-delivered crew of businessmen in January.

“Next year, it’s going to start moving really fast, so we’re really excited about that,” NASA astronaut Shane Kimbrough told the space station last week.

This is exactly the future NASA wanted once the shuttle is retired and private companies take over ferry flights to the space station. Atlantis made its last shuttle flight 10 years ago on Thursday.

“The way I see it, the better, isn’t it?” McAllister said. “The more the better.”


The Associated Press Department of Health and Science receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. AP is solely responsible for all content.


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